Parent says school broke education laws by allowing articles in paper
UTAH -- A student journalist's father is accusing his daughter's school of breaking the law after the school newspaper published articles about sex.
Stephen Graham, who is also president of the Standard of Liberty Foundation, has asked the Utah Attorney General and State Office of Education to investigate whether Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, broke state privacy and sex education laws by allowing students to print three pieces in
The Lone Peak Crusader, according to a press release posted Wednesday on the organization's Web site. The organization bills itself as a nonprofit corporation ''which exists to raise awareness of radical movements overrunning America's Christian-moral-cultural life and to promote public resurgence of religion and traditional sexual morality to counteract these trends.''
On Nov. 17, an opinion piece advocating the formation of a Gay Straight Alliance at the school ran in the student newspaper alongside an opposition piece written by Graham's daughter, Elise.
Graham refused to comment for this article. But the press release alleges the student-written pieces violate two Utah education laws.
''The Utah FERPA law forbids schools from allowing any activity which results in students revealing information concerning their sexual behavior, orientation or attitudes,'' according to the press release. ''Utah Education law requires that schools stress the importance of abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after marriage, and also forbids advocacy of homosexuality and of sexual activity outside of marriage.''
In the opinion piece on HPV, student Sarah Brimhall said that teaching abstinence is not enough to prevent the spread of the disease.
Samantha Tuttle, current editor of The Lone Peak Crusader, said in an e-mail that her adviser and the school principal have been supportive of the paper. She said school district lawyers looked into the opinion pieces in November and said the paper did not do anything illegal.
''We may have rattled [Graham's] cage and reported on heavier issues than he thinks is appropriate, but we are careful not to step outside the lines,'' Tuttle said. ''Unfortunately, our paper has been scrutinized more since November.''
Tuttle said a picture of someone dressed as a punk on Halloween was left out of the paper because ''we were afraid Stephen Graham would say that the guy wearing eyeliner as a punk is promoting homosexuality.''
Student press advocates said Graham is confusing school officials and students.
''This parent has apparently confused the legal limitations on what school officials can do and the legal rights of student journalists to discuss issues of their choosing,'' said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. ''No one has suggested the students were forced to cover these topics by the school. As long as students are making the content decisions, these choices are completely appropriate and probably legally protected.''
Lone Peak High School Principal Chip Koop did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. But Koop told the Deseret Morning News, a community newspaper, that Alpine School District attorneys say the school district has not broken any laws.
The student newspaper's adviser, Nate Phillips, told The Daily Herald, another community newspaper, that he did not think the paper broke the law.
James Fisher, an assistant professor lecturer in the department of communication at the University of Utah, said the school did not break any state laws when it allowed the student paper to publish the pieces in question.
''It's tunnel vision at best, censorship by accusation at worst,'' Fisher said of Graham's allegations.
''It's the kind of overly blind protectionism that drives a lot of young people out of journalism, and certainly out of thinking and opening their minds.''
Fisher said Phillips has attended workshops at the university on law and ethics, and is ''one of the best young advisers in the state. He knows what he's doing.''
In the Deseret Morning News article, Graham said he wants school district officials to admit they broke the law and send an apology to all parents.
''The kids' articles should be about sports, music, dances, academics, noise in the halls and lunch room menus,'' Graham said in the press release. ''What in the world are school administrators thinking allowing twisted articles about homosexuality, genital warts and infections, rape, and promiscuity for minors from age 14 to read the facts? They seem to be purposefully subverting wholesomeness, traditional morality, and parents' rights.''
Carol Lear, director of school law and legislation at the Utah Office of Education, told The Daily Herald that she does not plan to investigate the articles.
''I'm not going to do anything,'' Lear told the paper. ''If the school district asks my opinion, I would give it to them, but we just don't have a monitoring, punishing role.
''To say if there was an article in a school newspaper about how many girls had been raped and to say that's promoting sexual activity, that's not accurate. It's just providing information. It doesn't promote it.''
For their part, student editors at Lone Peak High School said they will continue to publish stories relevant to their audience.
''We try to address issues that teens really are facing today and if Graham is afraid of our influence, then he doesn't trust youth to form their own opinions and begin to find their own way in the world,'' said Tuttle, the student editor.
Lone Peak High School, news, The Lone Peak Crusader, Utah