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Covering protests and demonstrations: Staying safe if your campus is next to be "occupied"

(10/06/11 8:45pm)

As the Occupy Wall Street movement gathers steam in both New York City and at satellite locations across the country and internationally, some of those covering the event for commercial media have been called out for watching from afar, failing (or refusing) to take the time to talk with the protesters and hear their message.

As "douchebags" case ends, Supreme Court continues to mull off-campus speech rights

(10/31/11 5:19pm)

It’s the end of the road for Doninger v. Niehoff. The Supreme Court denied Monday the certiorari petition filed by Avery Doninger’s attorneys, effectively ending three years of legal wrangling in a period that saw the rise of a host of off-campus, online student expression court cases. Attorney Jon Schoenhorn called the news a “disappointing end” to the case but even more concerning for the larger precedent. “My biggest concern is that it’s going to chill the free expression of thousands of students because of an erroneous reading of it by school officials,” Schoenhorn said. As a junior at Connecticut’s Lewis B.

S.D.-area school officials lose jobs after raiding student extracurricular accounts

(10/05/11 12:38pm)

One of the most distressing calls we get on the Student Press Law Center's hotline is some variation of this one: "We came back from summer break and discovered that all the money in our yearbook account is gone, and nobody will tell us where it went." Cash-strapped schools undoubtedly are tempted by any pot of money, even one that is earmarked for a student organization, in their desperation to pay the bills.

Pennsylvania court: Violating the school dress code isn't the same as protesting the school dress code

(10/05/11 6:38pm)

If you wear a Jeff Foxworthy T-shirt to protest your school's dress code ... you might be red-faced. A federal judge has decided two Pennsylvania students have no First Amendment claim against their school district for discipline imposed when they wore non-conforming clothes to school -- even though they say the gesture was meant to express a message of dissent. Don Filippo Scicchitano and Caterina Anna Scicchitano were suspended and ultimately expelled from the Mount Carmel Area School District in Eastern Pennsylvania in 2000, in what they said was retaliation for opposing the school's restrictive dress code (blue-and-khakhi colors, no messages except for the school logo and religious symbols). While the students sometimes wore messages explicitly challenging the regulations, at other times they simply wore clothing noncompliant with the code, including T-shirts listing comedian Foxworthy's "Top Ten Reasons You Might Be a Redneck." They challenged the discipline as a violation of their First Amendment rights, arguing that the Foxworthy shirts and other unapproved clothes should be understood as being a silent extension of their more explicit protesting. In February 2011, a Pennsylvania jury disagreed and ruled in favor of the school district on all of the Scicchitanos' claims.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: For teaching hospitals, a dose of sunshine is just what the doctor ordered

(10/11/11 4:48pm)

Anyone who spends billions of dollars in taxpayer money needs watching. People who are convinced they are spending the taxpayers' billions doing the Lord's work saving lives need extra-close watching, because they are able to convince themselves that any amount of corner-cutting is justified by the importance of their mission. America's teaching hospitals owe their existence to government subsidies -- directly, to the tune of $10.9 billion a year from Medicare to subsidize medical education, and indirectly, to the largesse of the colleges that host them, receiving everything from free land to subsidized insurance to participation in state retirement plans.

It's April Fools Day on Bizarro Planet -- school administrators turn First Amendment true-believers

(10/17/11 9:27am)

The dictionary defines "chutzpah" as "unmitigated effrontery or impudence; gall; audacity; nerve." Mr. Webster, meet the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. While school administrator groups across the country stubbornly resist (and often actively oppose) extending free-speech rights to the students and teachers under their supervision, their brethren in South Carolina yield to no one in their First Amendment zealotry. When it helps them keep secrets from the public. The Association has convinced a state-court judge to exempt it from complying with South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), on the grounds that opening its records to the public would compromise the organization's right to formulate its political positions privately.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: The "open investigation" that never closes, a frustrating FOI loophole

(10/18/11 4:31pm)

A few weeks ago, a vigilant reporter for George Mason University's Broadside newspaper picked up on a one-line entry in a police blotter that turned out to be national news. The blotter wasn't very informative -- a suspect's name, a criminal charge, the location of the jail.

High school freedom fighters: FIRE's essay contest deadline approaching

(10/20/11 4:46pm)

If you're a high school senior graduating in the spring of 2012, heading to college, and believe in free expression, you should check out the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Freedom in Academia essay contest.  You can win up to $5,000 in scholarship money by writing an essay explaining why free speech is important in higher education -- and FIRE has great videos about their work to help you respond.

Stripped of access? Iowa court decides there's no right to know how strip-search violators were punished.

(10/21/11 10:52am)

In a split decision, Iowa's Court of Appeals has refused to order a public school to disclose records documenting the disciplinary action imposed on two employees who improperly strip-searched female students to look for stolen money. The case, ACLU Foundation of Iowa, Inc. v.

TRANSPARENCY TUESDAY: Are college sports really a cash cow? More like a cash tapeworm.

(10/25/11 12:35pm)

College athletics are perceived as a cash cow, a profit center for Division I schools that justifies the substantial image risk that many schools incur by enrolling "students" of dubious academic merit, and by associating themselves with the sports agents and high-rolling boosters who are drawn to college athletes like flies. The numbers, however, often tell a different story. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that most college athletic programs in Ohio -- with one notable exception: Ohio State -- are not financially self-sustaining from ticket sales, merchandise royalties and other self-generated revenues.