A Montgomery County high school teacher, Kathy Megyeri, was paid $500 for an article submitted in her name to a women's magazine that contains portions of a fictional story written by an honors student at her school.
Brenda Way, a 17-year-old senior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, said she was stunned to learn that an article in the March 29 issue of Woman's World magazine included verbatim sections of a story about teen-age abortion she wrote more than a year ago. Way's story, called "The Letter," was published last April in Erehwon, the Churchill literary magazine, and won an honorable mention in the school's fiction writing contest. Way said she never submitted the story for publication in a commercial magazine.
Megyeri, who has taught in the county school system since 1965 and at Churchill since 1977, said that she incorporated a portion of Way's story into a larger article she sold last summer to Woman's World. Megyeri said the story was based on an interview two years ago with a 16-year-old former student (not Way) who recounted her experiences of an abortion, as well as a visit to a local abortion clinic. Both Way and Megyeri say they have never met each other.
Megyeri said she never consulted Way about using her work because a lawyer at a firm that represents the Washington Independent Writers group had told her that "once something is published, it's public, and you can use it."
Ron Goldfarb, a partner in the law firm Goldfarb, Singer and Austern, which handles legal matters for the writers' group, said Megyeri came to his office for legal advice last July 15. He said she was given a free, half-hour consultation offered to members of the writers group as part of a group legal services program.
Goldfarb said he could not comment on Megyeri's legal affairs without her permission. But he said that "no lawyer would ever tell a client that anything is copyable once it's printed. I have never told anybody in any context that they can use something because it has been published elsehwere. There is no way I would advise somebody like that."
Janel Bladow, a news features editor of Woman's World, which is sold at supermarket checkout counters, said Megyeri was paid $500 for the one-page article, called "Please Try to Understand," which was highlighted on the magazine cover. The story ran in a section called "In Real Life, a series of intimate stories," over the byline "as told to Kathy Megyeri." It was accompanied by pictures of a teen-age girl in a counseling clinic and in a hospital bed.
Way discovered two weeks ago that three-quarters of her story, the portion written in the form of a letter, had been used in the magazine.
"A girlfriend called me up and asked me why I had published the story under a different name," Way said. "I said I hadn't."
Way said she was unaware that Megyeri was a teacher at Churchill, which has one of the largest high school faculties in the county, until she showed copies of both stories to a speech teacher at school the next day. She said the teacher took her down the hall, pointed to a teacher in an English class, and said it was Megyeri.
"I was rather shocked," Way said.
In a letter mailed last week to Montgomery County school board president Blair Ewing, Way wrote: "Sir, imagine how I felt when I found that this person, Kathy Megyeri, was a teacher in the Montgomery County public schools. A teacher, Mr. Ewing, in my very own school.
"What hurts me most, Sir," the letter continues, "is not really the action itself, but the fact that a teacher from the faculty that I have learned to look up to for three years could have done this without even trying to contact me for my permission or at least to give me credit for my work."
Way's attorney, Stanton Gildenhorn, said the story is Way's "proprietary material" and that Megyeri should pay her the amount she received from Woman's World for using it.
Way said she wrote her story for Erehwon after spending time with a girlfriend from another high school who had decided to have an abortion. Way said she was with her friend the day of the abortion and was deeply pained by her friend's experience. Her friend, who asked not to be identified, said they had long conversations about the abortion, which led Way to write the story. Her friend said that she also did not discuss the abortion with Megyeri.
"It was a very emotional time for me because I saw all of the hurt that my friend was feeling ," Way said. "It was something I mulled over for a long time. It was something very important in my life."
Way, who plans to attend college and study art next year, said Megyeri had "ruined" her story. "She left out the last paragraph, which had the most impact. She really butchered it."
Way's story begins with a letter from a teen-age girl to an unborn child, explaining her reasons for having an abortion. She first wrote about it in a journal she kept for her writing class at Churchill. At the suggestion of her teacher, she said, she then submitted "The Letter" to the literary magazine.
The article in Woman's World under Megyeri's name is a first-person account describing events leading up to a 16-year-old's abortion. The article concludes with a five-paragraph letter written by the teen-ager hours before the abortion. It is nearly identical to Way's story in Erehwon.
Both begin: "My Dearest, I think this will be the hardest letter of my life to write. I wanted to explain to you why I have to do this. I didn't plan it, sweetheart . . . ."
Way's story continues: "I woke up this morning and had a feeling that you would be a girl. I think I'd name you Sasha--because you're so much like a little bird, kind of like Peter and the wolf. You flutter inside of me so much . . . My little Sasha, do you realize how much I long to hold you in my arms?"
The Woman's World article includes the same paragraph, omitting only the phrase "Peter and the wolf" and adding a word at the end of the sentence. Three other paragraphs are nearly identical, changing only punctuation.
Megyeri said she did not inform editors at Woman's World that part of her article was fictional and written by someone else because "Woman's World publishes both fact and fiction . . . It didn't matter to them ."
But Bladow, the magazine's news features editor, said that Woman's World only publishes fictional stories in a special fiction section. She said stories in the "In Real Life" section "are real stories.
"I was definitely under the impression that it Megyeri's article was a true story," Bladow said. "She never told us it was part fiction. She never made any distinction. We were operating under good faith with a writer. There was nothing in her cover letter or in our telephone conversation that led me to believe a part of it wasn't true."
Bladow said Megyeri had submitted several articles to Woman's World last August, including the one on abortion, but that none of the others was published. Bladow said the magazine recently scheduled another article by Megyeri but would now withdraw it.
Montgomery County school officials said Megyeri has been a frequent contributor to the Bulletin, a school system publication, and several local journals.
She also had a freelance article published in the Style section of The Washington Post last January, entitled, "Coping: Battle of the Thermostat."
According to correspondence in The Post's files, Megyeri sent the article about abortion to a Post editor last July 8 with a cover letter that said: "Readers of the style section will be shocked by reading the chronicle of a 16-year-old who narrates her story of the abortion experience in Montgomery County."
A Post editor, Margaret Mason, wrote back to Megyeri on July 20: "This is beautifully written, but it won't work for us." Mason suggested that Megyeri send it to a magazine such as Seventeen.
Montgomery school officials declined to comment on the matter until they have spoken to the teacher and others involved. (The system's spring recess ended yesterday.)