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Former Packer newspaper staff members Emma DeJong, left, and Abby Hammes address the West Fargo School Board Monday night to show their support for journalism instructor Jeremy Murphy. David Samson/The Forum

West Fargo students, WFEA support Murphy

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 The Leidal Education Center parking lot was full, and students, teachers, and parents filled every available space in the boardroom on Monday night to show their support for Jeremy Murphy. Murphy, an English teacher at West Fargo High School, was asked to step down from his role as advisor for the West Fargo high school student-run Packer newspaper last month for what has been described as a difference of philosophy with the district. Murphy has not been relieved of his other teaching duties as a high school English instructor and yearbook advisor.

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Clad in T-shirts with "Save Murphy, Save the Packer," and "I will be heard," over 70 current and former yearbook and high school newspaper staff members and supportive students filled the boardroom, as former Packer editors Abby Hammes and Emma DeJong read statements reminding board members of state and national awards earned by this year's yearbook and newspaper staffs under their advisor's mentorship. Being careful not to mention Murphy's name, in compliance with the board's policy not to allow comments about personnel issues during board meetings, DeJong asked the board to reconsider their decision.

"We are asking you to keep the best interest of the students at heart," DeJong said, after reciting a heartfelt message endorsing the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech.

West Fargo Education Association president Joan Connor also read a letter written by her son, Joe, who served as a former Packer editor, but was unable to attend Monday's meeting in person. In his letter, Connor described the Packer and the school board as two conflicting businesses. "Only through a discussion between the leadership of the two, can any issue be resolved, present or future," Connor said. Connor cited legal precedents set by Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier for establishing protection for student publications under the First Amendment.

Board members stood firm with their decision. Board president Tom Gentzkow reminded the group that board decisions aren't always easy or popular.

"We say 'no' because we have reviewed the facts, and asked varying degrees of questions," Gentzkow said.

Angela Cassidy, who has been hired as a half-time language arts instructor, will take on the co-curricular position as advisor to the high school newspaper.

Earlier in the day, West Fargo students and teachers were joined by union representatives from Fargo, Grand Forks and Valley City education associations at the North Dakota Education Association offices at 4357 13th Ave. S.W., during a WFEA led press conference in support of Murphy.

Following a statement made by WFEA president Joan Connor, Deanna Paulson, Uniserve Director of the North Dakota Education Association fielded questions from the media.

"We will pursue every avenue at our disposal to either restore Jeremy's position or to resolve it favorably for Jeremy," Paulson said.

Meagan McDougall, the 2008-09 Student Council President, was frustrated with the board's policy not to allow public comment on personnel issues.

"How is a student supposed to gain audience with board members?" McDougall asked.

In other board action, Tom Gentzkow and Karen Nitzkorski were re-elected as president and vice president of the West Fargo School Board. Gentzkow was the lone nomination for president, with Nitzkorski and Ben Koppelman nominated for vice president. By roll call, board members voted 4-3 in favor of Nitzkorski.

• approved a joint resolution with Fargo Schools to promote the Youth

Entrepreneurship Project promoted by the NDSU Research and Technology Park;

• approved the budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year;

• approved a resolution to set the total number of mills levied at 170.64 for the 2009-10 school year;

• authorized Business Manager Joe Sykora to withdraw all interest and 50 percent of the principal funds from the special reserve to be deposited in the general fund;

• designated the West Fargo Pioneer as the West Fargo School District's official newspaper;

• approved school lunch prices for the 2009-10 school year with no increases;

• awarded bids for computers, memory kits, classroom projectors, and portable document cameras;

• approved revisions to leave policies for professional, health restoration, and childcare leaves as recommended by the Policy Committee;

• and approved the resignations of three teachers.

The next board meeting is scheduled on July 27, at 6 p.m. in the Leidal Education Center Boardroom.

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