When student journalists and advisers face conflict over what they publish, the Student Press Law Center has been a resource for legal advice since 1974. The center also takes interest in free expression cases that occur on or off high school and college campuses, including on the Internet. Even if you're not a student journalist, some of the current controversies nationwide may interest you. Here are two situations the SPLC has written about for its Web site; visit www.splc.org for more news, legal support and contact information.
Censored columnist takes case to court
California -- After failing to reach an agreement during court-mandated mediation, a high school student whose opinion column was banned from the student newspaper will face his school district in court over claims of First Amendment violations.
Andrew Smith, a former student at Novato High School, sued the school in 2002 after administrators censored his column on immigration. Smith wrote the column, "Reverse Racism," as a follow-up when a previous column of his angered some students and parents and led to the principal imposing a policy of prior review.
The original column opposed illegal immigration and resulted in a 150-student protest and a written letter of apology to parents from the principal and superintendent. Smith claims he received a death threat after that column ran.
In their letter to parents, Novato High School's principal and superintendent said the original column should not have been printed because it violated the school district's policy regarding student publications. The policy states that such publications "shall be limited only as allowed by law in order to maintain an orderly school environment and to protect the rights, health, and safety of all members of the school community."
School officials also said in the letter that the article violated the district's Human Relations and Respect Mission Statement, which says, "... all individuals including students, staff, parents and community members shall be treated with dignity, respect and fairness."
In the follow-up column that was spiked, Smith did not specifically address the immigration opinion article but instead talked about instances of reverse discrimination.
The 10-day trial has been set for March 10.
Student suspended for criticizing school
|Classroom and schoolwide activities for Scholastic Journalism Week can be found at www.jea.org. It also has information about upcoming journalism contests and trips.See front pages from all over the world, updated daily, at www.newseum.org. You might be interested in what some newspapers think is fit for page one and that others downplay. (For example, compare the New York Post and Wall Street Journal.) There's also a newsmania quiz game, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, stories of the century and editorial cartoons, all available online.Read the "The Future of the First Amendment," a study sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, at www.firstamendmentfuture.org/main.html.|
Massachusetts -- A recent high school graduate has put off applying to college because he does not want admissions officers to see a disciplinary marking on his record for "attempted terrorist activities."
Todd Graham, former co-editor of the Witches Brew, a student newspaper at Salem High School, was suspended for seven days for posting a message from home on a nonschool-sponsored Web site critical of the school.
The message read: "I haven't been in class for the last couple of days due to being sick to my stomach because of the school and what this is turning into. When I get my chance I will show everyone how I feel. I have never held back before, and I won't start now."
Graham said the posting meant that he was not going to be silenced about his opposition to the school district's newly enacted student publications prior-review policy and Supt. Levine's treatment of students during meetings about the change.
In December, Principal Ann Papagiotas ordered the newspaper's publication date delayed until students changed editorials on low student morale and school policies forbidding hats and eating in classrooms. The school then established a prior-review policy breaking with the state's tradition of only allowing censorship of a student publication if it would lead to a substantial disruption at the school.
Stories written by Megan Fromm. Copyright 2005 Student Press Law Center. Reprinted with permission.