New policy closes what students say is 'open forum' newspaper
MICHIGAN -- A school board in St. Clair Shores has passed a new student publications policy that subjects all student publications to prior review and prohibits them from taking ''a political stand on any issue.''
The Lake Shore Public Schools' Board of Education passed the new policy by a 7-0 vote at their final meeting of the school year Monday night, according to district superintendent Brian Annable. The policy's passage is the culmination of months of debate between school board members, student journalists, community members and student press freedom advocates.
The debate began in earnest in January when staff members at The Shoreline, the student newspaper at Lake Shore High School, voiced their disapproval with Annable's claim that their editorial policy, which declared the paper an ''open forum for student expression,'' conflicted with district policy.
Annable questioned the policy shortly after a teen sex article, written by a Lake Shore High School student, was published in May 2005 in the local newspaper, The Macomb Daily.
Although the article did not run in the student paper, students at The Shoreline were told their editorial policy would need to be changed to conform to a pre-existing district policy. Annable said the story in the local paper was not what caused him to review the student newspaper policy, but said it was the spark of some people's interest in the matter.
Andrew Mardis, an editor of The Shoreline, told the Student Press Law Center in February that his adviser received an e-mail in December saying the paper's publication would be postponed until they removed the editorial policy that claimed it was an ''open forum.'' The students refused to publish unless they were able to call the paper an ''open forum.''
Neither Mardis nor Shoreline adviser Kevin Francis could be reached for comment.
Kim Trombley, co-editor of
The Shoreline, also could not be reached for comment, but she told The Macomb Daily in January that the paper had considered itself an ''open forum'' for years.
"The last three or four years the paper has been operating as an open forum for freedom of expression, but the current administration says our editorial policy, which has already been established as an open forum, conflicts with the board's policy," Trombley told The Macomb Daily. "We have an open forum at Lake Shore, and now they want to review it."
In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier restricting high school students' free press rights by allowing certain circumstances under which a high school newspaper may be censored.
In its decision, the Court ruled that if either ''by policy or by practice'' a student paper has been opened as a forum for student expression, and student editors have control over content, an administrator's ability to interfere with the newspaper is limited.
Annable, the district superintendent, said
The Shoreline was in fact a ''limited public forum'' and the district's policy needed to be clarified to better reflect that.
The new policy, passed Monday, gives ultimate control over student publications to administrators and makes all publications subject to prior review by advisers.
''The decision to publish or produce something shall be made by the adviser with appeal to the principal and Superintendent,'' according to the policy.
The policy also restricts what advertisements student publications may accept, requires that a byline accompany every article and notes among the objectives of student publications to ''promote and encourage school-sponsored activities'' and ''create a wholesome school spirit.''
It also requires all publications to ''comply with the ethics and rules of responsible journalism.''
Annable defended the new policy, saying administrators are primarily interested in promoting ''good journalism'' among students.
''People use terms like 'prior review' like they use the term
'censorship,''' Annable said. ''How can you offer advice if you haven't reviewed it?''
Annable said the policy's language prohibiting students from taking ''a political stand on any issue'' was intended only to apply to political matters pertaining to the school district.
''We need to go back and clarify that,'' Annable said.
Gloria Olman, a retired high school journalism adviser and legislative chair of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association, has been following the developments with the Lake Shore publications policy. She said the new policy ''disturbs'' her, especially since she said she has been discussing the issue with school board officials for months.
Olman said she has provided officials with documents explaining the Hazelwood
standard and why she believed The Shoreline ''open forum'' policy protected them from most administrative control. She said she even spent two hours last week discussing the matter with Annable.
''All to no avail,'' she said.
Selections from the policy:
''Students shall have the right to express their views and attitudes on all issues with the proviso that the tenor of the statements shall not encourage disruption of normal educational processes.''
''School publications/productions shall not endorse any candidate for public office or take a political stand on any issue.''
''Constructive criticism of the school, the District, other institutions, and/or social groups or practices is encouraged.''
''All material to be printed, performed or electronically produced is subject to review by the advisors. Those who are denied approval for inclusion of materials in school publications/productions may appeal to the Principal or Superintendent whose decision will be final.''
Lake Shore High School, Michigan, news, The Shoreline
- Teen sex story sparks publications policy debate News Flash, 2/2/2006