Language teacher fights for freedom of the press


Stu Mair

AP Lang. teacher Jasen Eairheart told his students a story about his days as a high school newspaper reporter.

Savannah Whitmer, Lead Reporter

AP Language and Composition teacher Jasen Eairheart is not the sort of person who sticks out as a troublemaker. In fact, Eairheart is known for his distinctive collection of ties, his love for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and his dedication to fantasy basketball.

For these reasons, many of his students are surprised to learn an interesting fact about the English teacher and high school valedictorianhe was suspended for three days in high school.

“I was editor of the school newspaper, and I wrote an article calling out the school board for illegal activities,” Eairheart said. “I was suspended, technically, for distributing the newspaper without permission, although in reality I did have permission.”

The school “newspaper,” a packet of paper written by a handful of students, contained two controversial articles, one of which advised readers to vote for Eairheart’s father for a school board position.

“The school board wasn’t allowed, by law, to make decisions that impact day-to-day school functions,” Eairheart said. “There was a board member whose daughter was meant to be homecoming queen since elementary school, that was just what her parents wanted for her. And that plan was coming apart because a foreign exchange student was going to be voted homecoming queen, and so the votes were rigged for the school board member’s daughter.”

Though Eairheart describes this experience as “fun,” he does admit that he wishes he would have written a more balanced article, giving the side of the school board members in question. While the principal and superintendent took actions to discipline Eairheart, several faculty members and teachers supported his conduct.

“When I was suspended, the superintendent brought me to his office and threatened me with a lawyer,” Eairheart said. “I spent the whole three days of suspension reading OSS law books that a sympathetic board member donated to me. Anything I missed at school was supposed to be counted as a zero, and that was the punishment. But for three days, none of my teachers gave me any zeros. They agreed with me and with what I did.”

At the next school board meeting, Eairheart presented his case in front of several sober board members, who promptly voted to deny his request to take the suspension off his otherwise clean record. Although Eairheart was “more angry than [he’s] ever been,” the tables eventually turned.

“A week later, the superintendent told me in passing that my suspension was revoked,” Eairheart said. “It was a pretty shady situation. Then the superintendent was fired the next year, and the principal and his wife were also caught embezzling money from the school.”

Eairheart has turned his experience into something more relevant than an interesting story.

“I use it now to introduce argument, because it’s the perfect anecdote for our work on free speech,” Eairheart said. “I encourage students to integrate personal experience into their writing, so that story provides a great example for writing argument essays.”

Eairheart’s students are often surprised upon hearing his story.

“I thought it was unbelieveable,” junior Holly Thompson said. “It’s one of those things you only read about in a fictional book or hear about in a movie. It was really interesting, how much he had to fight to give his opinion on something that most people here see as a just cause, just looking at how corrupt his school system was.”

This high school news controversy has inspired Eairheart’s students to incorporate their own personal experiences into their AP Language and Composition writing.

“You usually think of your teachers just as teachers,” Thompson said. “But this shows that he had a life before this, and how interesting he is and how much more to him there is that we don’t even know.”