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Kelly Smith, Published July 13 2009

West Fargo teachers union shows support for Jeremy Murphy

The West Fargo teachers union is making a last-ditch effort to persuade the School Board to reinstate former high school student newspaper adviser Jeremy Murphy.

“I ask our School Board members to make this right,” said Joan Connor, the president of the West Fargo Education Association. “There is time to make a good and sound decision.”

Murphy, who was the adviser of the West Fargo High School student newspaper, was recently removed from the position due to a difference in philosophy with administrators.

This afternoon, the teachers union held a news conference to show their support for Murphy, voicing the opinions they won’t be allowed to say at tonight’s School Board meeting.

Connor and former Packer newspaper editor Emma DeJong will be speaking for about three minutes each at tonight’s School Board meeting. They aren’t allowed to discuss Murphy’s position due to the district’s policy not to discuss personnel issues publicly.

Instead, both plan to read a statement discussing the importance of the newspaper. The board meeting takes place at 6 p.m. at the Leidal Education Center.

At this afternoon’s news conference, Connor said Murphy’s “livelihood is at risk,” adding that he has “now questioned whether or not to continue in the field of education.”

The news conference was attended by other state teachers union representatives and a dozen of current and recent graduates of West Fargo High School students.

Connor said this situation is “representative of a larger and farther reaching problem within the schools of West Fargo – that of an atmosphere of mistrust and lack of open and honest communication and confidence between the constituency and the administration of our school system.”

Deanna Paulson, who represents West Fargo for the North Dakota Education Association, said the low morale among teachers in West Fargo has hit “rock bottom” due to teachers’ “inability to express themselves without fear of retaliation.”

“In the past couple years the West Fargo School Districts seems to have taken on the philosophy of taking the ‘public’ out of West Fargo Public Schools,” Paulson said.

School Board President Tom Gentzkow said last week that the board doesn’t expect to address the issue, but rather listen to Connor and then proceed with the rest of the board meeting.

The board has consistently stood behind their policy that they don’t discuss personnel issues and will stand by administrator’s decisions.

“It’s somewhat discouraging,” DeJong said about not being able to address her former teacher. “It doesn’t allow a lot of room for hope and change.”

But Paulson said the union will continue to fight for Murphy’s position.

“We will pursue every avenue at our disposal to either restore Jeremy’s position or to resolve it favorably for Jeremy,” she said, adding about litigation: “That’s a possibility.”