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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
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Top Teacher Says TV News Defamed Her

NASHVILLE (CN) - A Tennessee Teacher of the Year claims Nashville's NewsChannel 5 Network defamed her in a report on an HIV education program she helped organize - but did not teach. The high school teacher says the network falsely reported that she had showed a class how to put condom on an "anatomical penis," then cut to footage of a parent who complained that she had taught kids "how to perform sexual acts, such as sodomy, anal sex and oral sex."

Susanne Frensley, a teacher at Hillsboro Comprehensive High School in Nashville, was Tennessee's Teacher of the Year in 2007.

She says she was teaching a leadership class when her kids decided they wanted to do a service and learning project about "issues of an unhealthy school sexual climate and teen pregnancy."

Frensley contacted Alignment Nashville, which coordinates programs with community organizations at her school, and was told about the Survivor Club.

Nashville Cares, a community-based AIDS service organization, developed the Survivor Club, which teaches teens about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Frensley says only one parent complained about the program, after it was completed, and took his complaint to the media and religious groups.

When his complaints became public, Frensley says, Nashville Cares said repeatedly that it was responsible for the curriculum and teaching the class.

Nashville Cares made that clear again in a school board meeting where the objecting parent, the only person to speak against the program, also spoke, Frensley says.

She says NewsChannel 5 was the only media outlet to skew the facts in its report.

"The report began with a large backdrop of numerous wrapped and unwrapped condoms along with the graphics 'Sex Ed Debate' and 'Nashville Public Schools.' The reporter indicated that some may find parts of the story 'inappropriate.' The report acknowledged that the controversy related to a 'Nashville Cares' Program,'" the complaint states.

"Despite this acknowledgment, the reporter went on to state that 'Teacher Susan (sic) Frensley demonstrated how to put a latex condom on an anatomical penis.' Immediately thereafter, the report cut to footage of the parent's remark to the school board where he stated 'and this is what she did, she took the condom and put it in her mouth and showed the kids how to insert it. I felt that my child was violated by the school and by the teacher by using a school leadership class to expose our children to a comprehensive sex program which teaches our teens how to perform sexual acts, such as sodomy, anal sex and oral sex.'"

Frensley says, "The objecting parent was not present for any of the instruction," and NewsChannel 5 "did not address plaintiff Frensley in any way."

"As evidenced by the actual report, the prior reporting on the incident, the interview conducted with Nashville Cares prior to the report being made, and the statements of all individuals before the school board, it is clear that the defendant had specific knowledge that the plaintiff did not engage in any of the conduct that it attributed to her during the broadcast. The defendant never attempted to contact the plaintiff."

Frensley says she was publicly humiliated by the false report, and was given a written reprimand, which claimed that she had not asked parents for signed permission slips for their kids to participate - though she had - and accused her of not telling the principal about the program, "despite multiple examples of the executive principal's knowledge, including among others his signature on a field trip authorization to go to Nashville Cares to complete Survivor Club Training."

She says she demanded a retraction from NewsChannel 5, and the station "agreed that its reporting was inaccurate and false and retracted the statements."

Frensley says the defamation was malicious. She seeks punitive damages of no less than $500,000 for defamation and invasion of privacy.

She is represented by David Cooper.

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