School in Wash. tries to impose restrictive policy





WASHINGTON — Administrators at Renton High School near Seattle who seek the imposition of a strict prior review policy for student publications say the change has nothing to do with editorials in the paper that caused "hurt feelings" last fall.

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But Hilari Anderson, adviser to The Talking Stick, disagreed. She said an October editorial about the school's policy on fighting that "hurt vice principal Alice Coleman's feelings" and a December cartoon portraying Renton principal Willie Fisher as uninformed are the direct cause of the change.

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Where the old policy gave principals "the authority to monitor" student publications, the new one would allow administrators to "review in advance the contents of any school publication."

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Disagreements over content could be appealed to a district editorial board that the policy would establish. The board would consist of Executive Director of Secondary Education Louis Pappas, two students, two community members as well as two publication advisers and a principal not from the school in question.

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The policy also states that student publications are "not public forums."

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The new wording makes Renton's policy one of the more restrictive in the state, said Fern Valentine, chairwoman of the Freedom of Expression task force for the Washington Journalism Education Association.

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"We feel sure that many districts have no policies at all and just practice prior review by tradition," she said. "Often the adviser isn't aware of student rights or is unwilling to fight that tradition."

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Pappas said the change came about as part of an ongoing overhaul of school board policies over the past several years.

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"[The cartoon] has absolutely nothing to do with the process," Pappas said.

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The motivation for the policy revision came from a Washington State School Directors Association directive, which also provided the wording for the proposed publications policy in what Pappas called a "template" of generic school board policies.

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Renton's old policy was formulated in the early 1980s before the 1988 Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that gave administrators wider latitude to review many school-sponsored papers.


reports, Spring 2002