A heavy hand comes down in Sherwood

Good God, will this not cease?

While I was twiddling my thumbs Wednesday in a jury-duty pool, The Oregonian’s Maya Blackmun was breaking the story on the latest development in the Sherwood school censorship case: The school district is investigating Jennie Brown, the Sherwood Middle School drama teacher who wrote the play “Higher Ground,” which in a last-minute decision was kept off the stage by school principal Anna Pittioni.

Ironically, the play is about bullying and how to respond to it.

A few onlookers had said earlier in this running farce that the school was going after Brown and trying to get her fired. I thought that was a little melodramatic. Now it looks as if they were right.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s an old tactic, and I’ve seen it many times: the stacked deck of official procedure forcing out the card that doesn’t fit. It’s always done in private, of course, for the “protection” of the person being investigated, even if that person declares he or she has nothing to hide. In the meantime, the charge and the innuendo do a nice smear job, sometimes irreparably damaging the target’s reputation. The first time I saw it done was in the late 1960s, when a college prof I knew who was a leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement was forced out of his job. It was such a shock to his system that he became a journalist.

In Brown’s case, the district confiscated her school-issue computer — one can only assume, at the urging of her principal — in an effort to find: well, who can tell? People know Sherwood for its annual archery competitions with its namesake town in England. Apparently the town likes fishing expeditions, too.

Yes, yes, I know: Every employee signs an agreement stating that his or her assigned computer is company property and the employee has no right to privacy on it. That’s a common coercion. If you don’t sign, you don’t get (or keep) the job, and every employee knows that. Did I mention something about a stacked deck?

Among the district’s concerns, according to Blackmun’s story: Brown violated district policy by not vetting controversial material with administrators (she says she’s never been asked to do that in the past), and administrators should have monitored the production more closely (if they didn’t, how is that Brown’s fault?). It also seems people are ticked that the students performed the play last weekend at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts, effectively rubbing the Sherwood district’s nose in it.

One suspects that after all this, Brown and Pittioni aren’t especially fond of each other. One suspects that Brown rubs Pittioni the wrong way. So what? You don’t can or discipline an employee because you don’t like her. And no one in a position of authority should use official channels to pursue a vendetta. Maybe the most important part of any teacher’s job is to encourage independent thought. Seems like Brown’s done that. So why is she being hung out to dry?

Now the lawyers are involved, and that could lead to almost anything. School board members, of course, are declining comment: must protect the process blah blah blah. And you can smell the stench of something rotten for miles around.

— Bob Hicks