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Ind. students, school settle 'penis pops' online speech case without money damages

(05/29/12 4:52pm)

A pair of Indiana students will not receive money damages from the school district that punished them for Facebook photos, despite a judge ruling in their favor. The students have settled their free speech lawsuit against the Smith-Green Community School Corporation. Under the settlement, the students will not receive damages or attorney’s fees, but the school corporation is prohibited from enforcing provisions in its student handbook that allowed the students to be punished after posting pictures of themselves with penis-shaped lollipops. The school corporation can no longer enforce provisions that allow students to be removed from extracurricular activities because the students act “in a manner in school or out of school that brings discredit or dishonor upon [the students] or [the] school,” Judge Philip Simon wrote in a final judgment issued Tuesday. The order makes permanent an injunction from August, and comes nearly three years after two 10th-grade girls were suspended from the Churubusco High School volleyball team and other extracurricular activities after posing with the “phallic-shaped rainbow colored lollipops.” In Simon's earlier ruling, he found the students had engaged in protected speech when they posted the photos at home on their own time.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Private campus, public records -- SMU's Daily Campus puts on a clinic on covering sexual assaults, athletics spending

(05/01/12 7:25pm)

If your campus newspaper broke the story that big-name athletic director, recruited and paid top dollar to build a major-conference powerhouse, had helped instead dig the athletic program into an $18.6 million yearly deficit, you'd think you had a pretty strong semester. For the staff of The Daily Campus at Southern Methodist University, it might not even have been the biggest story of the week. That distinction may belong to the investigative team responsible for "Sweeping Rape Under the Rug," a painstakingly reported package that begins with a gasp-inducing statistic: "Over the past 25 years, more than 100 SMU students reported they were sexually assaulted.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: "That's personnel" is rarely the right response

(05/08/12 10:04pm)

How public employees are performing their jobs (or whether they're showing up at all) would appear to be pretty essential information for journalists (or just inquisitive citizens) to figure out whether government agencies are, or aren't, working effectively. It's long been the case, however, that personnel information is some of the toughest information to obtain by way of a public records request, in part because of the myth that personnel records are always confidential. For instance, a North Carolina television reporter was told that, because of "personnel confidentiality," she couldn't be told why the City of Charlotte was still paying the city's former top tourism official for at least two months after he left the job, or how long it would continue paying him into the future. And a New York requester recently was denied access to questionnaire responses completed by candidates for a city planning board, which asked about their qualifications to serve.

Tennessee school board vows "investigation" of yearbook over gay student's profile story

(05/10/12 11:18am)

Responding to fierce public criticism, the Lenoir City, Tenn., school board is investigating the decision to publish an article in the 2012 Lenoir City High School yearbook in which a student describes his decision to come out publicly as gay. Today's Knoxville News-Sentinel reports that, during a discussion of the yearbook article at Wednesday's board meeting, Chairwoman Rosemary Quillen promised "a permanent solution so that situations like this never happen again." Nothing was said publicly about the status of English department chairman and yearbook adviser James Yoakley, an 11-year veteran of LCHS who has been the target of public hostility.

Former adviser's lawsuit will cost Indiana district $40,000, unspecified legal costs

(05/22/12 4:32pm)

An Indiana school corporation paid former journalism adviser Kelly Short $40,000 to settle her First Amendment lawsuit. According to a settlement agreement obtained through a public records request, Greater Clark County Schools agreed to pay Short the money through its insurance carrier, and allowed her to formally resign rather than have her contract cancelled.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: When colleges go into P.R. mode, remember that the P.R. office creates public records too

(05/22/12 7:01pm)

For those responsible for burnishing the public-relations image of the University of Montana, the last half-year has brought a nightmarish cycle of one unspeakably bad story after another. First, the Grizzlies football program was plunged into turmoil by a string of sexual-assault allegations against prominent players, leading UM to fire its head football coach and athletic director. Next, the university was accused of foot-dragging in bringing charges against a visiting Saudi national student who -- when confronted with accusations that he raped one student and attempted to sexually assault another -- fled the country and evaded prosecution. Then, the U.S.

"Fault Lines" study identifies link between lack of civic education and low participation in voting, volunteering

(05/24/12 10:25am)

Yet another national study, this one by Educational Testing Service, is giving failing grades to the way schools prepare young people to participate in civic life. "Fault Lines in Our Democracy," issued Wednesday by the Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit, diagnoses a "disconnect" between what students are taught about American government and what they retain, and concludes that students need not just more lectures about civics but more opportunities for hands-on participation in civic activities.

Louisiana bullying frenzy -- violating the First Amendment, or just trying to?

(05/29/12 9:24am)

In the waning days of their 2012 session, Louisiana legislators have the unappetizing choice between two anti-bullying bills: One that violates the Constitution, and another that is intended to. To understand how thoroughly cyberbullying hysteria has taken hold of state legislators, consider the disappointed comments of state Rep.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: You can't yell 'fire' in a crowded dorm -- but you can yell 'where's your fire safety inspection report?'

(05/29/12 6:22pm)

State inspectors recently wrote up Northern Illinois University for seven "severe" safety violations in a classroom/office building, including failure to label potentially hazardous chemicals or to make sure emergency lights worked properly. It was, a state Department of Labor official told the Northern Star newspaper, the first time in 11 years that the department had gotten around to visiting NIU. That sounds pretty slack, but in reality, a once-a-decade visit from independent inspectors still is more attention than a lot of college buildings receive. An Iowa City man is suing the University of Iowa, alleging that the university and its property management company failed to repair water leaks in his campus apartment, resulting in mold that made him seriously ill.

Neb. students will not appeal loss in "Julius RIP" T-shirt case

(05/30/12 2:19pm)

Plaintiffs in a Nebraska suit that called into question the right of students to wear an “RIP” T-shirt have decided not to appeal their case. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp wrote in a directed verdict last month that no “reasonable jury” could rule against the Millard County School District in a First Amendment lawsuit brought by three former students. A trial jury had ruled in early April that the school district acted reasonably when it suspended Dan and Nick Kuhr in 2008 for wearing T-shirts which read “Julius RIP.” The T-shirts were in remembrance of Julius Robinson, who was shot in front of an apartment complex in what was believed to be an act of gang violence. The school district suspended the Kuhrs, arguing that the T-shirts — as well as an accompanying bracelet — had the potential to cause a substantial disruption in school. Though the jury ruled against Dan and Nick Kuhr, it did not find in favor of either party for a third plaintiff, Cassie Kuhr.