New policy challenges open forum newspaper


School board adopts new rules for expression that students call overly broad





OHIO -- The well-respected student newspaper at Upper Arlington\nHigh School has long been viewed as an island of student press\nfreedom in a state with no state law protections for student journalists.

But that freedom has been limited by a new school board policy\nthat advisers say could lead to more censorship of a previously\nindependent voice.

The new policy, approved by the district's school board in\nJune, is largely a revision of the "Student Rights and Responsibilities\nHandbook." The policy gives school officials the right to\nregulate written expression that is "inconsistent with the\nbasic educational mission of the school district," a phrase\nnot specifically defined.

Carol Hemmerly, adviser to the Upper Arlington High School\nArlingtonian, said she is worried that the wording of the policy\nis too broad, leaving too much to administrators' discretion.\nHemmerly said the Arlingtonian has drawn criticism from school\nboard members for articles that criticized a disciplinary policy\nand highlighted the experiences of homosexual teens in school.\nShe said the new policy is partly a reaction to that coverage.

"They want to have a little more control over anything\nbefore it blows up in their face," she said.

However, Assistant Superintendent John Artis, who directed\nthe policy review, said the changes were part of a routine examination\nof the policy and not directly related to anything that was published\nin the paper. Artis disagreed that the policy hurt student journalists\nand said students were part of the revision process.

"We are in no way attempting to limit or in any way deal\nwith our student press," Artis said. "In fact, we've\nbent over backwards to work with them all the way through this\nprocess."

The new policy still emphasizes the First Amendment rights\nof students and allows the Arlingtonian's editor to solely determine\nthe paper's content-rare in a state without a law to guarantee\nstudent free expression. But the new policy allows for prior review\nof publications by administrators if the faculty adviser requests\nit, which Hemmerly says could put pressure on her.

"It puts me in a very awkward position," she said.\n"They're putting the responsibility of requesting my students\nto be prior reviewed on my shoulders."

Arlingtonian business manager Blythe Pollack shared her adviser's\nconcern about the prior review guidelines.

"If we do print something that makes people upset, then\nthe principal or the school board is going to come to our adviser\nand ask, 'Why didn't you let us look at the paper beforehand?'"\nPollack said.

Board member Gloria Heydlauff said she supports the newspaper\nand that the new policy strikes a balance between the needs of\nthe school and that of the students.

"They still have an ability to exercise a tremendous amount\nof freedom," Heydlauff said. "Along with that, they\nneed to accept there's some responsibility."


Fall 2001, reports