Fall 2000

High school censorship calls up again in 1999

VIRGINIA -- Censorship calls to the Student Press Law Center from public high school journalists rose more than 14 percent last year. Read more


A story on page 15 of the Spring 2000 Report, "Kentucky will require\ncolleges to make police logs more open," incorrectly stated that under\nKentucky law, school officials can be held liable for any injury or death\nresulting from violations of the Michael Minger Act, a law that requires\npostsecondary educational institutions to keep an accurate log of all crimes\nreported on campus and to make that log available to the public. Read more

Education Department issues guidelines for release of campus court information

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Under new guidelines issued by the Department of Education in July, colleges and universities can no longer use the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as justification for their refusal to release the results of certain campus disciplinary proceedings. The new guidelines make it clear that schools do not violate FERPA -- a law enacted to protect the privacy of students' educational records -- if they release the names of students found guilty of violent crimes and nonforcible sex offenses in the campus court system, unless prevented from doing so by a state law or other legal mandate. Since the rules took effect August 7, schools are now allowed to provide the final results of disciplinary proceedings in which a student is found to be in violation of school rules for allegedly committing a crime of violence or nonforcible sex offense. Read more

DOE slams college with $25,000 fine

IOWA -- Colleges and universities not willing to loosen their hold on campus crime statistics may be forced to loosen their purse strings to pay steep fines if a ruling by the Department of Education is allowed to stand. Mount St. Read more

Fox sues Missouri system for campus court info

MISSOURI -- In a lawsuit filed in January, a Kansas City television station claims that the University of Missouri system's board of curators and some university administrators are in violation of the state's Sunshine Law for not providing a reporter with access to information regarding crimes that occurred on Missouri campuses between 1996 and 1999. Attorney Jean Maneke, representing WDAF/Fox 4, said the requested records are from campus disciplinary hearings dealing with crimes of violence and nonforcible sex offenses, but that the newly released FERPA guidelines do not affect the case. Read more

Law will require colleges to report crimes to police

TENNESSEE -- The state's campus crime reporting code was amended in February to require colleges to report all felonies and Class A misdemeanors committed on campus to appropriate local law enforcement agencies. The act goes beyond current federal laws, which require only that schools include such incidents in their police logs. Read more

DOE to post crime statistics on Web site database

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Current and potential students should soon have easy access to campus crime statistics through a Department of Education online database. Officials from the DOE began compiling campus crime statistics from colleges and universities in August for collection in the database, which will give students the opportunity to view crime information from colleges and universities around the nation in one place. The DOE will present the data to Congress in December. Read more

House wants colleges to make sex offenders on campus public

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Schools with information regarding registered sex offenders present on their campuses will be required to make that information available to students if the Senate approves a bill passed unanimously by the House in July. If the federal bill becomes law, beginning in 2001 campus police departments will have to make available the same kind of sex offender registry information as local law enforcement would. Read more

Student settles disciplinary lawsuit again Ohio University

OHIO -- Ohio University student Nathan Ray will return to campus this fall after settling a lawsuit in which he accused the school of violating his rights to due process during a campus disciplinary procedure. The Department of Education is currently suing two other public universities in Ohio to prevent them from releasing campus disciplinary records to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Some critics of campus courts say the secrecy in disciplinary proceedings can lead to charges that the system is unfair. Ray was suspended in April after a campus court found him guilty of violating the student code of conduct. Read more

Former newspaper editor sues campus agency for access to bookstore records

NEW YORK -- What started out as a routine story idea led to a lawsuit filed by the former editor of the Hudson Valley College student newspaper. Tony Gray claims officials from Hudson's Faculty-Student Association, which operates the school's bookstore, are violating the state's Freedom of Information Law by denying The Hudsonian access to invoices for textbooks the store sold to students. The paper first sought the records in January for inclusion in a story examining bookstore prices and whether the store is overcharging students by inflating book prices. Read more

School districts fail access test

MISSOURI -- It started out as just another school project, but 15-year-old Lindsay Rhodes soon turned the tables by using her critical thinking class assignment to put local school districts to the test. And what the Liberty Junior High School freshman learned was that district administrators may need to devote some extra study hall hours to working on their compliance with state open-records laws. Rhodes wanted to test local school districts to measure their compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law, which she researched for her project. Read more

Student reporter opens N.Y. taxi court's doors

NEW YORK -- A student at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism is headed where no reporter has gone before. In March, a state court ruled that journalist Daniel L. Read more

Student wants university to unlock e-mail records

COLORADO -- Officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder claim the school has turned over all the records requested by student Shannon Meadors, but Meadors tells a different story. She claims the university has been in violation of state open-records laws since April, when she first requested e-mail records from 16 individuals, including state employees and student government officials. Read more

State bills open up athletic associations

The public now has more access to high school athletic associations in Georgia after the state passed a bill requiring those organizations to comply with state open-records laws, and the same thing may happen in Pennsylvania if the state's House of Representatives approves a bill passed by the Senate in June. Georgia's HB 1308, signed by Gov. Read more

Privacy rules do not apply to colleges, FTC says

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Trade Commission ruled in May that colleges do not have to comply with new federal privacy regulations requiring institutions to report their confidentiality policies to the commission. The FTC said colleges are already ruled by the confidentiality requirements of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act-also known as the Buckley Amendment-which prevents schools from releasing student records that include personally identifiable information about students without authorization. Read more

Two schools shut doors to meetings

Students at Auburn and Indiana University are struggling with school officials over access to meetings that student journalists think the public has a right to attend. A wall of silence surrounds an Indiana commission chosen to develop guidelines for acceptable behavior for all students and faculty in the school's athletic department. The committee members, appointed by university President Myles Brand after sanctions were imposed against Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight for misconduct, held their first closed meeting in May with no prior notice to the public and no comments afterward regarding what took place inside. It appears that the commission's code of conduct, once decided, will be all the information that is released thanks to what Indiana Daily Student editor John Silver called a loophole in Indiana's open-meetings laws. "The reason they can close [the meetings] to the public is that the commission members were appointed by the president -- not an elected/appointed governing body -- and not the board of trustees," Silver said. Read more

Judge says CUNY student senate is public body

NEW YORK -- A state court judge ruled in July that the City University of New York's University Student Senate violated the state's open-meetings and freedom-of-information laws by electing officers and conducting votes by secret ballot. State Supreme Court Justice William J. Read more

Police confiscate journalist's naked photos

ILLINOIS -- Northern Illinois University officials admitted violating the First Amendment after confiscating film from a school newspaper photographer in May. The film contained pictures of a graduate student who took off all her clothes to protest remarks made by a speaker at a religious debate on campus. Because the police arrived too late to identify the woman, an officer approached Northern Star photography editor Kevin Slattery and asked for his camera. When he refused, a few plain-clothed officers arrived and told him if he did not give up the camera he would be arrested. "I was upset because I didn't know my rights," Slattery said. Read more

Endangered Species

Didi Farmer wanted her high school yearbook to reflect real life. Editor Farmer and her staff did not shy away from covering controversial issues like teen sex in their school yearbook. Read more

Senior barred from attending graduation receives $150,000 in lawsuit settlement

TEXAS -- A high school senior barred from attending his own graduation agreed to a $150,000 settlement with his school district in May. Former Midland High School student Casey Riggan was not allowed to go to his graduation after he refused to turn over a photograph taken of his principal's car outside a female teacher's house over a year ago. Read more

Sex education article in school paper riles parents

CALIFORNIA -- An article on sex education in the Granite Bay High School student newspaper caused one group of parents and at least one school board member to question the First Amendment rights of student journalists. The Granite Bay Gazette published an article in April detailing how little some high school students know about their own bodies. Student editors decided to publish the story after a new state education law took effect Jan. Read more

Judge prohibits school district from punishing student for contributing to underground paper

CALIFORNIA -- Five students filed lawsuits against the Los Angeles Unified School District in June challenging the punishments they received for their involvement with an underground newspaper. In total, 11 Palisades High School students were suspended and four others transferred for their involvement with the Occasional Blow Job, a controversial underground newspaper that insulted teachers, students and administrators and used profane language. As a result of the suspensions, approximately 300 students staged a walk-out to show support for the newspaper and the students involved. According to court documents, school administrators said the students involved with the newspaper and walk-out were punished for contributing "to unauthorized material which caused disruption on the high school campus." For Jeremey Meyer, that contribution was an e-mail he never intended to be published. Meyer, a senior at Palisades and one of the four students who was forced to transfer to another district high school, filed a lawsuit asking the court to allow him to return to Palisades. U.S. Read more

States introduce bills to restrict surveys

High school journalists and advisers in Colorado are relieved. They managed to insert a provision into a bill exempting some student journalists from a requirement that school officials receive permission from students' parents before administering any surveys or assessments. The original version of the bill did not contain an exception for student journalists. Read more

Senior ousted from graduation ceremony

KANSAS -- Completing course work may not be enough to attend graduation ceremonies at Schlagle High School in Kansas City. Mary Colston was ejected from her graduation ceremony in May after a dispute with administrators over an honor cord she was wearing that signified her membership in Quill and Scroll, the national honor society for student journalists. Colston said school officials told her she could not wear the cord because only students who were members of the National Honor Society are allowed to wear their cords. Read more

Survey says: More Americans support student press freedom

VIRGINIA -- A slightly increasing minority of Americans support free-press rights for high school students, according to a recent survey. In The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center's survey, "The State of the First Amendment 2000," released in early July, respondents were asked whether they believe high school students should be allowed to report on controversial issues without the approval of school authorities. Forty-three percent strongly or mildly agreed that students should have the right to cover hard-hitting stories. Read more

School expels 8th grader for bomb drawing

MASSACHUSETTS -- An eighth-grade student was suspended and subsequently expelled in May for drawing a picture of his school surrounded by explosives. Michael Demers, a special needs student at Northwest School in Worcester, was asked by a teacher to draw a picture of how he felt after being reprimanded for talking in class. Read more

Adviser sues school for ending contract

MISSOURI -- A former college newspaper adviser filed a lawsuit in June against Central Missouri State University, alleging her termination was in response to stories covered in the school's newspaper. Barbara Lach-Smith, who advised the Muleskinner staff for six years, said her contract was not renewed because of stories uncovering unusual stipulations in outgoing university President Ed Elliott's contract, including $620,000 in severance pay, special benefits for Elliott's wife and personal computer services. James Rynard, Lach-Smith's attorney, said he can prove that the school violated Lach-Smith's civil rights and infringed on students' First Amendment rights. "We're very confident in our claims," Rynard said. Read more

Officials fire adviser in dispute over content

NEBRASKA -- Good news isn't cheap. At Peru State College, administrators are accused of doing everything they can, including censoring the student newspaper and firing the adviser, to make sure positive news comes out of the struggling institution. Controversy struck last November during an investigation by then-editor Kathy Chase into a sexual assault on campus. Peru State Times adviser Matt Mauch said college President Ben Johnson attempted to prevent Chase from covering the incident. "They were telling her this is beyond your jurisdiction," Mauch said. "You do not want to write about this; if you write about this you will get on my bad side. Read more

CMA threatens to censure college

MARYLAND -- College Media Advisers sent a formal letter to Mount St. Mary's College President George Houston in June, saying the school has 30 days to make amends with the adviser to the student newspaper, The Mountain Echo. If the school is unable to reach a resolution within the 30-day time frame, CMA will likely censure the college. Read more

Director loses job for refusing to permit prior review

NORTH CAROLINA -- Officials at St. Augustine College in Raleigh confiscated almost the entire press run of the student paper and fired the adviser because he refused to allow "administrative review of the student newspaper prior to its publication," said Sevealyn Smith, communications department division chair, in a memo sent to the former adviser. Calvin Hall, former director of student publications at the college, said administrators told him they wanted to begin reviewing the publication in February. Read more

The Struggle for Control

Imagine the federal government canceling the presidential elections this November because officials are unhappy with media coverage of the candidates. Think about what would happen if the president ordered copies of The Washington Post removed from newsstands out of fear that the paper's candidate endorsements would unfairly influence voters. Read more

Court of appeals judges hear oral arguments in Kincaid v. Gibson college censorship case

OHIO -- A full panel of federal appellate court judges heard oral arguments May 30 in what may be the most important case heard to date regarding the First Amendment protections afforded America's college student media. In September 1999, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Read more

Editors scuffle with officials over distribution bins

NEW YORK -- Citing 'aesthetic reasons,' administrators at the City University of New York's Graduate Center removed distribution bins for the school's student newspaper and replaced them with two much smaller racks -- a move that editors say seriously hampers their distribution efforts. Editor Mark Petras said the old bins held up to 300 copies of The Advocate, but now his staff can only distribute around 60 issues at a time in the plastic racks that appeared in April in the lobby of the school's nine-story building, which is the paper's main distribution site. "If our distribution in the lobby is stopped, it really cuts off circulation to the whole building and the whole school," Petras said. School officials have designated a shelf, the bottom of six on the rack, as the one on which the papers are to be placed. Read more

Mercury task force wants to implement changes for Glenville State newspaper

WEST VIRGINIA -- The Mercury may not be rising this fall at Glenville State College if The Mercury Strategic Plan Task Force follows through with all of its recommendations for the school's student newspaper. Christopher Williams, office manager of The Mercury, said the college's president formed the committee to make some major changes to the paper, including a revision of the newspaper's charter and development of a publication committee that Williams said could regulate story content before publication. The task force is looking into areas of the paper's operation, including its budget, format, mission and purpose, number of issues, production schedule, staffing policies and adviser selection as well as ways to "ensure that it meets the mission" of the school. He said the committee is also considering moving the newspaper office from its current location and totally eliminating the print version of the paper, leaving a solely online publication. Williams said among the explanations given for the changes is the fact that the paper's budget, which is funded by student fees, is being affected by a decline in enrollment. However, he also said school officials have been upset with critical articles The Mercury has printed and thinks the administration's view that the paper has not done "an adequate job of informing students on campus" really disguises its desire to control content. "They don't want us to print anything derogatory to the university," Williams said. Read more

Faculty advisers reject student's submission

CALIFORNIA -- When Fresno City College student Ryan Bowler had his submission to the campus magazine The Ram's Tale rejected by faculty advisers out of fear it would offend the school's administration, he decided to use another publication to get the word out about what he calls an attempt to "regulate the student press and subsequently control the student body." In a commentary published by The Fresno Bee in May, Bowler accused school officials of threatening to withhold monetary support from The Ram's Tale if student editors printed material that offended administrators. Read more

Controversial articles lead to formation of committee

ARIZONA -- An ad hoc student newspaper advisory committee at Yavapai College claims it is seeking to upgrade the standards of the school's newspaper, but the paper's former editor thinks the college president is trying to gain editorial control over the paper after the publication of several controversial articles. Editors at The Rough Rider received a memo announcing the formation of the committee to establish more comprehensive guidelines and professional standards. Read more

Cable commission wants obscenity standards

ILLINOIS -- Members of the Des Plaines cable commission are seeking to develop obscenity standards for local public-access cable stations after a Harper College student's television program offended some citizens. The sometimes vulgar and profane "Static Experience" is broadcast after-hours by AT&T-owned Channel 35, which currently imposes no editorial restrictions on its programs. Read more

Editors weary of administrators' proposal

UTAH -- It happened over a year ago, but student editors at the University of Utah's Daily Chronicle believe the so-called 'Huntsman affair' is still impacting their newspaper in significant ways. In August of 1999, former Chronicle editor Dave Hancock wrote a column criticizing the appointment of Karen Huntsman to the state's board of regents because of her lack of a college degree. Huntsman's husband, Jon, a multi-millionaire and one of the university's major donors, was outraged by the column and threatened to withhold all future funding unless Hancock printed an apology, said current Chronicle editor Shane McCammon. With over $400 million hanging in the balance, and after extreme pressure from the school's administration, the editor was persuaded. Hancock published an apology for any personal offense the column caused but stuck by the view shared by he and his staff that there were flaws in the appointment of Mrs. Huntsman. Read more

Lower courts asked to revisit fee cases

WISCONSIN -- A federal district court will have the opportunity to determine if the referendum system at the University of Wisconsin -- which allows the student body to determine funding for certain student groups -- is constitutional. Although the Supreme Court upheld the use of mandatory student activity fees to fund campus groups in March with its decision in Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Read more

University president disavows school newspaper

NEW JERSEY -- The student newspaper staff at William Paterson University may be facing a difficult fall semester if university President Arnold Speert sticks to a promise he made last spring. Speert said he would no longer recognize The Beacon as the campus newspaper after being offended by the paper's annual satire edition, The Bacon, which was published in May. In a memo sent to the university community, Speert said he was "appalled and offended by the insensitivity and poor judgment" of the newspaper staff in publishing material that he called racist, sexist, homophobic, antisemetic and "antithetical to the values that are at the heart of this University." Speert also said his administration would no longer advertise with the paper or grant interviews to its reporters. He further threatened to make The Beacon's other advertisers aware of the school's condemnation of the paper and to discourage them from advertising with the publication in the future. Read more

Students seeking to silence criticism swipe papers at 3 college campuses

Prospective students visiting a university's campus for the first time are supposed to get their first glimpse of what life as a college student is really like. Those who attended Drew University's 'Spring Saturday' admissions event on April 15 may have received a tour of the campus, but their opportunity to get a true feel for the student voices of the university was taken away -- along with 1,000 copies of the student newspaper. Co-editor Susan Rella said her staff filed a criminal mischief complaint with local police after the campus public safety department failed to act on reports that witnesses saw students wearing admissions and tour guide T-shirts removing stacks of newspapers from The Acorn's main distribution sites in the school's dining hall and student center. Rella estimates that half of the paper's 2,000 press run was stolen but that most of those papers were later found in an area of the student center that is inaccessible to students. The issue that was stolen contained front-page articles on sexual assault and two arson arrests. Read more

BYU orders freshmen to pay $1,200 for theft

UTAH -- The Brigham Young University honor court dispensed a $1,200 fine to two students who confessed to stealing copies of the campus student newspaper in February. The students were identified after BYU police initiated an investigation into the Feb. Read more

Court upholds state ban on alcohol advertising in college newspapers

PENNSYLVANIA -- Across the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, free copies of The Pitt News, the school's independent student newspaper, rest in bins waiting to be picked up by the university community. Just as easily accessible to students are copies of other free, commercial newspapers, which in some places sit right next to stacks of The Pitt News. Anyone walking past has the freedom to choose which paper he or she wants to read. But businesses in the state do not have the same freedom to select in which paper they want their advertisements to appear, after a June ruling by the U.S. Read more

Know Your Cybershield

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High school student faces criminal libel charges for Web site remarks

UTAH -- A Milford teen spent seven days in a juvenile detention center and was forced to leave the state after being charged with criminal libel for statements he made on his personal Web site. Ian Lake will face a misdemeanor charge of criminal libel for referring to his principal as "the town drunk," naming girls at his high school as "sluts" and making derogatory remarks about the intelligence of several teachers. In typical civil libel suits, if an individual is libeled that person can only recover monetary damages from the person who defamed him or her. In the rarely used criminal libel charge, the state can prosecute a person for libel and impose jail time. Stephen Clark, legal director for the Utah American Civil Liberties Union, and one of the attorneys representing Lake, said the criminal libel statute itself is unconstitutional and therefore the case should be thrown out. "As far as we can tell the Utah statute ... is facially overbroad because it purports to criminalize perfectly legal constitutionally protected speech," Clark said. Read more

Judge allows student suspended for Web site to finish schoolwork

ARKANSAS -- A federal judge ruled in late June in favor of a ninth-grade student who filed a lawsuit against his school district for suspending him for his Web site. U.S. Read more

Legislation could hinder online student papers in N.J.

NEW JERSEY -- A bill passed by the state House of Representatives in June that was meant to protect the privacy of students in the Garden State also has the ability to greatly restrict the rights of the high school student press. HB 592, which is currently in the Senate, would make it illegal for any personal information about students to be posted on a school Web site without written consent from a legal guardian. Read more

Student suspended for Web site wins free-speech lawsuit against district

WASHINGTON -- A superior court judge ruled in July that the North Thurston County School District violated the constitutional rights of a student who was suspended for ridiculing a school administrator on his personal Web site. Judge Thomas McPhee found that because former Timberline High School student Karl Beidler's Web site was not an on-campus activity and did not create a substantial disruption of the school day, school officials were not justified in punishing him for it. Read more

Courts rule on laws restricting Internet content

A federal law that criminalizes the commercial transmission of material deemed harmful to minors over the Web is unconstitutional, according to a unanimous ruling by a federal appeals court in June. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Read more

Judge upholds expulsion of 8th grader

PENNSYLVANIA -- In a departure from most court rulings concerning schools' ability to punish students for their Web sites, a state court ruled in July that a Bethlehem school district did not violate the First Amendment rights of a middle school student when it expelled him for a Web page he created at home. Although most courts that have heard cases on this subject have sided with the students (see Web site), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court found that district officials were justified in expelling former Nitschmann Middle School student Justin Swidler because comments on his Web site could be considered threats against a teacher at the school. Read more