Plainfield High School Publication Under Fire


By: Clayton Lewis

On October the 30th, the Indy Star shed some light on the most recent, and perhaps most controversial, issue of Plainfield High School’s student publication, The Shakedown; for those who don’t know already, The Shakedown magazine is published by Plainfield High School’s very own publications class. On the 23rd of October students released their newest issue of The Shakedown to the student body. This particular issue of the publication was titled Plainfield High School’s Dating Survival Guide: Declassified, and as one might gather from the title, it was centered around the dating environment at Plainfield High School. This publication covered topics from advice on how not to be clingy to interviews with local police on the topic of abusive relationships. 1,700 copies of this issue of The Shakedown were printed and distributed at Plainfield High School on Oct. the 23rd and according to student sources, comments about the publication began circulating around the school fairly quickly following the distribution of the magazine.

Comments on the magazine weren’t limited to the student body of Plainfield High School, in fact one adult was fairly open about her opinions on the publication on Facebook. Bret Allen, the daughter of the Plainfield Schools board president Michael Allen, felt inclined to post her feelings surrounding the controversial publication on Facebook. In her post, she stated: “parents need to be aware that Plainfield High School has published and distributed to students a magazine telling our children that casual sex and even group (sex) is OK.” Allen would point to several articles throughout the magazine, some of which were: an interview with a ninth grade boy in which he tells of the time that both he and his girlfriend held a sleepover with the permission of both sets of their parents, as well as one article which detailed the definition of polyamory, which is a relationship involving more than two people. Bret Allen would make both her profile private shortly following her post on The Shakedown.

English teacher and Plainfield Community Schools Teacher of the Year 2017, Michelle Burress, is now under fire from the Plainfield Community Schools’ board and may potentially lose her job as a result of the controversy sparked by the release of The High School Dating Survival Guide. It cannot be said, however, that there are not those who would question the controversy that has risen out of the magazine’s release, Executive Director of the Indiana High School Press Association, Ryan Gunterman, states that nothing in the 24-page promotes or glamorizes sex. “This is well done, non-sensationalist material here. We don’t know what the big deal is, honestly” (Ryan Gunterman). In the fallout of this magazine’s release, Burress’ publications class now has to seek the approval of the Plainfield High School principal before they can publish any other issues of the school’s magazine in order to prevent sparking further controversy.

I myself, while doing research for this article, had the opportunity to read through two versions of the dating issue of The Shakedown Magazine; one provided through the Indy Star, which has been subject to censorship on certain pages, and one provided to The Veritas by an anonymous source which was entirely uncensored. After going through the magazine, in particular some of the aforementioned articles from Allen’s Facebook post, I’d have to say that I agree with Ryan Gunterman; I myself didn’t feel that the magazine promoted sex in any way; however, I can see how one might believe that the Plainfield High School Press’ pursuit of controversial topics such as casual sex might be seen in this way.

The fact that Burress may face disciplinary action as a result of this magazine feels quite unjustified in my own opinion. If I were teaching the publications class I’d like to think that I wouldn’t force my students to shy away from writing about controversial topics, so long as they are informative and unbiased in their writings. Writing on topics that might spark up some controversy is a big part of what journalism is in the real world, and I feel that not allowing students to completely engage in the experience that is journalism is a detriment to the course; why bother teaching the class if you won;t teach your students all that they need to know? Personally I’d go as far as to say that the new limitations put in place by the school board border on the limitation of free speech, but seeing as how The Shakedown is the property of Plainfield High School this claim would make little sense. However, I will stick to my claim that the possible firing of Burress is much too harsh for what I would assume is her first offense.