West Fargo High School English and journalism teacher Jeremy Murphy received the North Dakota Education Association Professional Courage Award during its annual Representative Assembly on April 10, at Bismarck's Doublewood Inn.
Murphy's passion for providing the best journalism education for his students was tested when he became the target of a disagreeing administration. At the end of the 2008-09 school year, Murphy was told he could not return as the school's newspaper advisor. The news came not long after the paper won best overall school newspaper and journalist of the year honors at the Northern Interscholastic Press Association competition. Despite these honors, the administration was not pleased with many of the articles and columns written during his tenure as advisor, particularly those that involved changes implemented by district officials.
As the advisor last spring, Murphy was asked to begin exercising some degree of censorship over what the students were writing. He refused and indicated he would advise them of their constitutionally protected rights, while continuing to ensure a fair, well-researched paper.
This simple act of courage inspired his students to take the unusual step of packing a board meeting and even speaking up on his behalf. That, in turn, spawned an outpouring of support for Jeremy and his students from across the nation. He was recognized as a finalist for the Tully Center Free Speech Award, an international recognition given to someone who shows perseverance to fight obstacles to free speech.
Murphy received the Professional Courage Award because of his professional dedication to teaching responsible journalism, and because he would not compromise his students' freedoms, even at the expense of losing his newspaper advisor position.
School Board earns Muzzle Award
While Murphy was honored for his actions, the West Fargo School Board earned a different kind of award.
The board recently was named a Muzzle Award recipient by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
The award, which is handed out for what the Jefferson Center sees as "egregious or ridiculous affronts to the First Amendment right of free speech," went to the West Fargo School Board for its handling of Murphy.
On its website, the Jefferson Center stated that even if school administrators acted within constitutional limits of their authority, "the decisions they made were poorly taught lessons on the value of freedom of the press."
Cheney's Noonan awarded scholarship
Also during the NDEA Representative Assembly, Andrea Noonan, a teacher at Cheney Middle School, received a Ron and Ann Anstrom Scholarship. Noonan will use the scholarship to take graduate classes in the Instructional Design and Technology program at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
"This program will keep me up to date with the latest research and technologies to be used to answer critical reflection questions in the classroom," she said.
Noonan hopes to continue to learn and teach in an eighth grade language arts classroom in the next few years.