Supreme Court may hear advertising case

Case will ask if student publications are an extension of the school administration

MASSACHUSETTS — After six years of struggle, a case that could decide if student publications in high school are an extension of the school administration may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Douglas Yeo, a Massachusetts businessman who wanted to print an ad in Lexington High School’s student newspaper and yearbook to encourage abstinence, has asked the Supreme Court to review the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s December decision.

The federal court ruled that Yeo could not demonstrate any infringement of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when student journalists refused his ads submitted to their publication.

“As a matter of law, we see no legal duty here on the part of the school administrators to control the content of the editorial judgments of student editors of publications,” the court’s opinion said.

The controversy arose in 1992 after the school decided to allow condom distribution in the schools. Yeo and other parents had been in a battle with the school over the policy.

The school’s newspaper and yearbook staff rejected Yeo’s ad. The students had an unwritten policy not to accept political or advocacy ads, but offered to allow Yeo to write a letter to the editor. Yeo refused the offer.

Students and school officials maintained that the school’s policy and practice had been to allow students to control the content of their publications, as the Massachusetts student free expression law mandated.

A district court ruled that since the students, not school officials, made content decisions regarding ads, the refusal of Yeo1s ad was legal.

The First Circuit Court initially ruled in favor of Yeo, but pressure from the National School Board Association and national journalism education groups prompted the federal appeals court to rehear the case.

In the new decision, the court said that students should not be considered “state actors” because decisions made by student editors are not attributable to the school.

Adam Foreman, the Lexington school district’s lawyer, said that they have filed their opposition papers to Yeo’s request for review with the Supreme Court and that he expects the Court will decide if it will hear the case by the summer. There would be a hearing within the following six months if the court agrees to hear the case, he said.

reports, Spring 1998