Fall 2001

High school censorship calls soar in 2000

VIRGINIA -- Censorship calls to the Student Press Law Center\nfrom public high school journalists rose more than 41 percent\nlast year. Read more

A Lost Cause?

For many journalism educators seeking to pass anti-Hazelwood\nlaws, Joan Bray's story is a familiar one. The St. Read more

Principal upset by article tries to prevent reporter from participating in graduation

VIRGINIA -- Principal Pamela Latt did not want to talk to Nicole\nShort. After all, the Centreville High School senior had already\npublished several other articles that did not reflect well on\nthe school or Latt. This time, Short was investigating why the suburban Washington,\nD.C., school had the highest teacher turnover rates in the county,\nrates that many attributed to Latt's administration. Read more

Court OK's expulsion for school shooting poem

WASHINGTON -- The attorney for a student expelled from school for\nsubmitting a poem about a school shooting is asking a federal\nappeals court to reconsider its ruling upholding the punishment. Breean Beggs, the student's attorney, said the U.S. Read more

School board disavows sex story

VIRGINIA -- The Danville School Board stopped short of censoring\nan article in a high school newspaper about the dangers of oral\nsex, instead inserting a letter into the issue saying it did not\nsupport the way the students covered the story. The board also made editors change the names of students quoted\nin several stories, but it backed down from its threat to change\nthe content of the stories. The April 9 edition of the Chatterbox, the student newsmagazine\nat George Washington High School, was distributed a month after\nits original publication date with a letter from the school board\nstating that it did not "agree with the manner in which the\nsubject matter of this issue has been presented." The Chatterbox has a long history of covering controversial\ntopics and had recently raised the ire of school officials for\nhighlighting dilapidated school facilities, according to Chatterbox\nadviser Marie Harris. Harris said the school board's assertion that it only disagreed\nwith the article's wording and not the subject was just a cover\nto shield bad publicity. "Behind the scenes, they just didn't like all these stories\nbecause they wanted nothing out there that said kids have any\nproblems that the school board couldn't eliminate," she said. The board ordered students to change the names of several students\nquoted in a story about interracial dating, saying hate groups\nwould harass students who were identified in the article. Read more

Principal censors school violence story

ILLINOIS -- The Devils' Advocate had been quietly turning out stories\nabout teenage concerns like binge drinking and homosexuality,\na measure of a committed staff and an experienced adviser. But it was not until the principal at Hinsdale Central High\nSchool decided to nix an issue of the paper that they received\nnational attention and thousands of readers-one fortunate outcome\nof the paper's first incident of censorship in more than 30 years\nas a highly respected school newspaper. Nearing the second anniversary of the shooting at Columbine\nHigh School in Littleton, Colo., the Advocate staff compiled student,\nstaff and community feelings about school violence. Read more

Pictures of cheerleader, same-sex kiss spark yearbook controversies

Lesson for yearbook editors: Never leave out the picture of the\nschool's cheerleading captain. Especially if her father is a lawyer. Student editors and school officials at Satellite High School\nin Florida learned that lesson when the father of one of the school's\ncheerleading captains sought a court order to stop the yearbook's\ndistribution until his daughter's picture could be added to the\nteam page. A Brevard County judge declined to grant the injunction, but\nthe Scorpio staff decided to correct the yearbook with stickers\nbearing the girl's picture rather than risk a further delay in\ndistribution. The problem began when the pictures of two cheerleaders who\nwere incorrectly identified as cheerleading captains were displayed\non the team page while the photo of the true captain, Christie\nWilliams, was omitted. Read more

Students who want to distribute religious literature challenge restrictions on speech

Valerie Snyder wanted to pass out Campus Crusade Survival Kits.\nJoe Baker wanted to circulate a flier challenging evolution. Read more

New policy challenges open forum newspaper

OHIO -- The well-respected student newspaper at Upper Arlington\nHigh School has long been viewed as an island of student press\nfreedom in a state with no state law protections for student journalists. But that freedom has been limited by a new school board policy\nthat advisers say could lead to more censorship of a previously\nindependent voice. The new policy, approved by the district's school board in\nJune, is largely a revision of the "Student Rights and Responsibilities\nHandbook." The policy gives school officials the right to\nregulate written expression that is "inconsistent with the\nbasic educational mission of the school district," a phrase\nnot specifically defined. Carol Hemmerly, adviser to the Upper Arlington High School\nArlingtonian, said she is worried that the wording of the policy\nis too broad, leaving too much to administrators' discretion.\nHemmerly said the Arlingtonian has drawn criticism from school\nboard members for articles that criticized a disciplinary policy\nand highlighted the experiences of homosexual teens in school.\nShe said the new policy is partly a reaction to that coverage. "They want to have a little more control over anything\nbefore it blows up in their face," she said. However, Assistant Superintendent John Artis, who directed\nthe policy review, said the changes were part of a routine examination\nof the policy and not directly related to anything that was published\nin the paper. Read more

Wis. supreme court delivers mixed opinion

WISCONSIN -- A student's creative writing assignment describing\nthe killing of a teacher is not a "true threat," the\nstate supreme court ruled in May, overturning the author's conviction\nfor disorderly conduct. The ruling brings to a close a case that began in 1998 when\na student, identified only as "Douglas D," wrote a story\nfor a creative writing assignment about a student named Dick who\ndecapitates his teacher with a machete. Read more

States consider bills to guard students who report threats from libel lawsuits

Two Western states are moving to encourage students to report\nthreats of school violence by shielding them from defamation laws. Nevada lawmakers adopted a plan in June to give immunity from\nlibel laws to those who report a threat to a school official or\npotential victim in "good faith." Legislators in California\nare considering a similar plan. The legislation, signed by Nevada Gov. Read more

Court to decide on criminal defamation

UTAH -- The state supreme court agreed to hear arguments on the\nconstitutionality of the state's criminal libel law in the case\nof a student arrested for calling his high school principal a\n"town drunk" on an off-campus Web site. Lawyers for Ian Lake, formerly a student at Milford High School,\nare asking the court to throw out the law, saying it is unconstitutionally\noverbroad. Read more

Editor secures return of confiscated film

OHIO -- The student newspaper editor at Wright State University\nreaped the rewards of standing up for the rights of her staff\nin May when she successfully retrieved film that had been confiscated\nby a law enforcement agent. Stephanie Irwin, editor of The Guardian, Wright State's student\nnewspaper, sent a letter demanding the return of the film after\nit was taken from a photographer on assignment. On May 4, Diane Corey, an undercover law enforcement officer\nworking on behalf of the Wright State Department of Public Safety,\nconfiscated a roll of film from Justin Garman, a photographer\nfor The Guardian. Garman was photographing an off-campus party that followed\nMay Daze, a university-sponsored, all-day celebration. Read more

U. Arizona student media dodge riot subpoenas

ARIZONA -- The student newspaper and student-run television station\nat the University of Arizona avoided subpoenas aimed at forcing\nthem to hand over photographs and taped footage of a disturbance\nin Tucson that followed Arizona's loss in the final round of the\nNCAA men's basketball tournament. Pima County prosecutors withdrew the two grand jury subpoenas,\nwhich were issued in April and early May, after they were met\nwith challenges from the student media. Prosecutors sought to compel The Daily Wildcat and TV3 to forfeit\nto Tucson police photographs and taped footage of riots in the\nFourth Avenue area. After Arizona's April 2 loss to Duke University, nearly 500\npolice officers donning bulletproof shields and nightsticks showered\nrevelers with rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd\nof more than 2,000, a portion of which had begun to cause substantial\ndamage to the area. Read more

Newspaper does not have to comply with open-records law, official rules

TEXAS -- The student newspaper at the University of Texas at Tyler\nwas handed a victory by the state attorney general's office, which\nruled June 19 that the state's open-records law did not require\nthe newspaper to release reporters' notes and recordings from\nan investigation into alleged misconduct by student government\nofficials. Shortly after The Patriot ran a story March 19 detailing alleged\ncampus election law violations, student government president Aimee\nGriffy filed a state Public Information Act request asking newspaper\neditor Melissa Tresner to turn over materials she compiled during\nher investigation. Griffy argued that the paper's staff members were state actors\ncovered by the state's open-records law because the paper is funded\nin part through student activity fees. But Tresner contested the request, claiming that compelling\nher to hand over the material violated her First Amendment newsgathering\nprivilege. Read more

Split Personality

College journalism professors and media advisers often instruct fledgling journalists to go to great lengths to ensure that their stories are accurate and fair.\n\n ''If your mother says she loves you, check it out,'' is a mantra commonly heard in journalism classes nationwide.\n\n But what happens when a school believes that ''checking it out'' conflicts with its disciplinary code? Read more

Editor fights punishment for content decision

GEORGIA -- A student newspaper editor at the Georgia State University has vowed to fight sanctions imposed on him by the administration for choosing not to run certain letters to the editor.\n\n Brad Pilcher, former opinion section editor, and Stephen Ericson, former editor in chief of The Signal, Georgia State's student newspaper, were each given disciplinary probation for violating the ''orderly climate'' and ''freedom of expression'' sections of the code of conduct.\n\n Under the terms of their probation, they are prohibited from holding an office or taking an active role in any campus organization for six months.\n\n The punishments came after several Muslim students and Georgia State's Muslim Student Association filed a complaint with the dean of students' office, claiming that the editors discriminated against Muslim, Arab and pro-Palestinian points of view by refusing to print three letters to the editor supporting the Palestinian perspective in the Arab-Israeli conflict.\n\n Pilcher said The Signal did not publish the letters because of space constraints and because they did not meet the paper's stated length and style requirements.\n\n The original complaint also alleged that Ericson, one of the paper's reporters and The Signal itself were responsible for what was described as biased coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the newspaper. Read more

Officials remove student from newspaper post

GEORGIA -- Kennesaw State University administrators forced the editor of the student newspaper to resign in April after she refused to name a confidential source who she claims helped her investigate a story. Becca Garber, editor of The Sentinel, said school officials' decision to remove her from her position and bar her from holding any leadership position on campus during the fall 2001 semester was unfair. The punishment came after Garber approached the assistant faculty adviser to the African-American Student Alliance and informed her that an investigation found that the organization's newly named president and vice president did not meet the group's minimum GPA requirement for leadership positions. The group's faculty adviser, fearing the release of the information to Garber was a violation of the two students' privacy rights, brought the matter to university administrators, who called Garber in for questioning. Administrators said they decided to punish Garber after meeting with her and determining that she violated a section of the code of conduct designed to protect students' privacy. Read more

Newspaper breezes past funding scare

VIRGINIA -- The administration at James Madison University decided June 8 not to cut funding to the student newspaper, despite the urging of one member of the school's board of visitors. At a March 23 board of visitors meeting, board member Charles Cunningham asked the administration to prepare a report detailing the funding and operation of The Breeze, James Madison's student newspaper. Read more

Board reprimands editor for endorsements

SOUTH CAROLINA -- The board of publications at the University of South Carolina at Columbia reprimanded the student newspaper editor in April after he stood behind the paper's decision to endorse candidates for student government positions. The board, which derives its power from the university's board of trustees, found Brock Vergakis, editor of The Gamecock, guilty of 'harassment' and 'entering into student partisan politics.' Vergakis was asked to issue a formal apology and to make the student body aware of his reprimand. Tension between the editor and the board was sparked by complaints that student government officials filed against Vergakis because they were upset by the newspaper's publication of candidate endorsements and an editorial slamming the student election process. During student elections in February, The Gamecock hosted an independent debate for student government candidates, after which members of the paper's staff voted to endorse certain candidates. Read more

Officials turn up heat on culinary students

MARYLAND -- Five students at a small, private culinary school in Baltimore recently found themselves in hot water with school administrators after they published an editorial criticizing one of the school's recruitment fliers in the student newsletter. The flier -- aimed at attracting students to summer classes at Baltimore International College -- features a bikini-clad woman holding a plate of piping-hot 'buns' and encourages students to 'Bake your buns at BIC.' The student newsletter published an editorial describing the recruitment flier as 'tawdry, despicable and loathsome.' The editorial criticized the administration for allowing the advertisement to be published, claiming it negatively represents female students and casts the college in a poor light. Read more

Council guts funding for newspaper

COLORADO -- The board of trustees at the University of Northern Colorado has voted to completely eliminate funding for the university's student newspaper -- a move the newspaper's staff has dubbed a retaliation against the paper's editorial content. The trustees gave final approval in June to a proposal from the Student Representative Council to deny The Mirror's request for close to $75,000 from the university. The elimination of university funding for the upcoming year would result in a 29 percent decrease in the newspaper's total budget, which Mirror adviser Paula Cobler said will have serious implications for the paper. Read more

Court calls handbill removal unconstitutional

MONTANA -- A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a former Montana State University-Northern professor who claims that his First Amendment rights were violated when handbills he posted around campus were systematically removed. A three-judge panel representing the U.S. Read more

Graduate student contests review board's authority to approve journalism research

MISSOURI -- A graduate student's challenge to a university policy that requires prior approval for research on human subjects has focused attention on what some describe as an unfair governmental check on journalists' First Amendment rights. This spring, Michael Carney, a journalism masters student at the University of Missouri at Columbia, became the first to challenge a university policy requiring research projects to gain the approval of a federally mandated institutional review board. The review board exists to ensure that all research on human subjects is conducted with certain standards in mind. Read more

Drug reference slipped into horoscope column spurs college to suspend paper

NEW YORK -- It is not often that a student newspaper adviser supports shutting down the newspaper, but the adviser at Onondaga Community College said chronic and intense cases of mismanagement on the part of the paper's top editors left her no choice -- and the editors are not fighting back. Laurel Saiz, adviser to The Overview, Onondaga's student newspaper, said she was called upon nearly every other week to resolve disputes among the staff members. Read more

Tenn. university punishes student for stealing issue

TENNESSEE -- Apparently one punishment was not enough to teach a Middle Tennessee State University student not to steal from the campus newspaper. Jenny Crouch, adviser to Sidelines, Middle Tennessee State's student newspaper, said a student accused of stealing a Sidelines newsstand has also been implicated in the theft of papers that contained an article detailing the student's appearance in court on the original charge. Read more

Campus publications witness hike in end-of-semester thefts

Thousands of student newspapers were stolen from four college campuses just before the end of the spring semester, and although the incidents are unrelated, all four issues contained articles that upset a campus group. Campus security officials are still investigating three of the four thefts. Read more

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Turning the Tables

When Joseph Hughes, a Marshall University senior, started a Web site dedicated to giving students alternative ways to purchase textbooks, he wanted to find a way to get people to visit the site regularly.\n\n He thought that posting professor evaluations might be a good way to draw students to the site.\n\n ''People simply didn't know about [the site] so I needed something to get people's attention,'' Hughes said.\n\n What Hughes did not bargain for was the battle he would face in accessing those evaluations. Read more

Agencies get poor marks on access test

CALIFORNIA -- Student journalists conducting an access project at Chico State University found that accessing public records can be tricky, especially when government agencies are not familiar with what is considered a public record under the law. Seven students put together an audit of local and campus agencies as part of an advanced reporting class to determine the level of compliance the agencies have with the California Public Records Act. Read more

Supreme Court agrees to hear FERPA case

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a school district's appeal of a federal court ruling that said peer grading violates the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment. The U.S. Read more

Death threats, vandalism tail student newspaper's drive for autopsy photos

FLORIDA -- A student newspaper's attempts to access the autopsy photos of race car driver Dale Earnhardt has left its editors facing death threats and vandalism from people who want the paper to drop its pursuit of the records. The Independent Florida Alligator, the student newspaper at the University of Florida, has been trying to access the photos since March. Read more

University settles open-meetings lawsuit

ILLINOIS -- A lawsuit brought by two former student newspaper editors was settled in April when the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees agreed to abide by state open-meetings regulations. Read more

KC Star fights curators for access to audits

MISSOURI -- A state circuit judge denied a newspaper's request in May for immediate disclosure of the University of Missouri System's internal audits. The Kansas City Star filed a lawsuit against the system's board of curators in 1998 after the board rejected requests for the records, which include all financial, operational, compliance and investigative audits. Read more

Schools extend reach to punish students for off-campus speech made on Internet

Continuing a trend of attempting to punish students for speech on the Internet, two New York high school students were arrested in May for harassment in connection with their off-campus Web site. Prosecutors later decided not to prosecute the students, but police are refusing to return a disk containing the last remaining copy of the site to the students' attorney. Police declined to release the names of the two 18-year-old males, citing their ages. Read more

New school district Internet policies give rise to nameless, faceless Web

Fearing wide access to personal information about their students on the Internet, some school systems are shutting down the Web sites for even the most innocuous school newspapers, saying they reveal too much to pedophiles around the world. A school board in Massachusetts adopted a policy forbidding the school district's Web sites to reveal any information about its students, including names and pictures, without the written consent of their parents. Read more

Filtering fervor fails to trickle down to states

State efforts to mandate filters on school and library Internet access have failed to win support from lawmakers this year, with at least seven state legislatures rejecting such laws. The action comes as libraries and First Amendment groups challenge a federal law that would cut federal funding for schools and libraries that do not use Internet filters. Most of the state proposals have stalled at the committee level and have failed to gain widespread support. Read more