High school censorship increases, 1998 SPLC legal requests indicate

Legal help calls from students at public high schools set SPLC record

VIRGINIA - Censorship calls to the Student Press Law Center from public high school journalists rose for the fourth straight year. According to the center, 321 high school student journalists or their advisers contacted it in 1997 for legal help concerning a censorship matter. That number tops the previous high of 293 recorded during 1997.

Overall, in 1998 the SPLC staff responded to 1,597 requests from student journalists and their advisers seeking legal help, up only slightly from the 1,588 calls received the previous year. In addition, the center responded to 518 requests from individuals seeking information only or from the media seeking comment on student press issues.

For the second year, the SPLC received more legal questions (719) from public high school students than any other group. Questions about censorship topped the list of high school concerns (45 percent), followed by questions about libel/privacy law (23 percent) and copyright law (16 percent).

The number of requests for legal help received from public and private college student media remained about the same. (791 in 1998 compared to 795 in 1997). For the first time, questions regarding public access to records and meetings (31 percent) topped the number of questions regarding censorship (27 percent).

Legal assistance ranged from providing information over the telephone to drafting opinion letters to making referrals to local attorneys who are members of the Student Press Law Center's pro bono Attorney Referral Network.

Calls to the Student Press Law Center came from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and eight foreign countries. Callers from California (185 calls), New York (175), Texas (129), Illinois (88), Florida (83), Ohio and Pennsylvania (80 each), Virginia (71), Michigan (70) and Massachusetts (60) topped the list.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only national legal assistance agency and information clearinghouse devoted exclusively to protecting and educating the student press about its freedom of expression and freedom of information rights. The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All legal services are provided to the student media free of charge.

Fall 1999, reports