Thirty-seven teachers from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee
gathered at The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn.,
in November for a conference designed to give them materials and training
to better teach their students about the First Amendment.
Some would regard the effort as quixotic.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Colleges and universities may use mandatory
student activity fees to finance campus groups that engage in political
speech as long as the funding system is viewpoint-neutral, the Supreme
Court ruled in March.
In a unanimous decision, the Court rejected the argument of Christian
and conservative students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison that
the university's fee system violated their First Amendment rights by forcing
them to fund groups they disagree with on political, religious or ideological
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M.
MARYLAND -- The administration of Morgan State University agreed
to reimburse the school's student newspaper in March for advertising revenue
it lost after school officials ordered the printer to delay delivery of
the election-day issue.
Spokesman editor Kevin Howell also asked administrators to reprimand
the two people involved -- the school's student activities coordinator
and student government association president -- for effectively censoring
the newspaper because of their suspicions that the issue contained candidate
Howell said SGA president Julian Dash called him on the morning of March
16 asking to see a copy of the newspaper.
CALIFORNIA -- Welcome to Irvine Valley College, where the fight
for free speech by professors and students has been going on for more than
Along with faculty members (see Professor),
students are upset over what they say are violations of their First Amendment
rights that started when Raghu Mathur became president of the college.
Some students have even decided to sue the school.
Irvine Valley students Diep Burbridge, Scott Stephansky and Dorothy
Caruso filed a lawsuit in August against the South Orange Community College
District, saying that their rights to free expression were being violated.
"President Mathur, certain administrators and board of trustee members
were strategically suppressing students and faculty and reducing us to
second-class citizens," Caruso said.
The students claim that the school is infringing on their rights by
regulating where they can gather, post messages and pass out fliers.
"Suddenly, little glass boxes encased under lock and key showed up on
our outside bulletin boards," Caruso said.
A student at Ocean County College in New Jersey pleaded guilty
on April 6 to having possession of 1,200 copies of the school's student
newspaper, The Viking News.
Allen Rubman was charged with possession of stolen property, a criminal
CALIFORNIA -- A federal judge ordered the administration of Irvine
Valley Community College to pay a professor $126,000 in January for violating
his free-speech rights by trying to censor his satirical newsletters.
The lawsuit came after Cedric Sampson, chancellor of the South Orange
County Community College District, told philosophy professor Roy Bauer
in December 1998 that his satirical newsletters, the Vine and the
causing a hostile working environment.
TEXAS -- Students and staff won a battle to protect the independence
of the student-run newspaper at Texas Tech University in January, defeating
an attempt by the director of the mass communications department to take
over the publication.
Department director Jerry Hudson proposed in January that The University
Daily be "administered by the School of Mass Communications." He suggested
the appointment of a "non-student staff" member as a newsroom editor, who
would also teach a journalism class in the department.
University Daily staff members strongly objected to the proposed
changes, fearing they would lose editorial control over the newspaper.
Faculty members also objected, citing a lack of information regarding the
proposed changes and voicing support for the independence of the student-run
Following widely publicized criticism of Hudson's suggested changes,
second and third drafts of the proposal were released.
NEW YORK -- The Hudson Valley Community College Student Senate locked
the staff of the student newspaper out of its office for eight days in
February during a battle over the newspaper's refusal to stop running a
The senate decided to lock the door to the offices of The Hudsonian after
members objected to the publication of a full-page ad for a local strip
club in the Feb.
NEW YORK -- The editors of the Queens College student newspaper
delayed distribution of their weekly issue in December after administrators
threatened to sue the paper for libel if it published an editorial accusing
the college president of lying.
Avi Muchnick, former editor of The Quad, said the dean of students
called him the night before publication and told him President Allen Sessoms
had "every intention of suing you and the newspaper."
"Suing was never likely," said dean of students Burton Backner.
ILLINOIS -- Two state newspapers have gone to court to get details
involving a secret settlement between Lake Land College and a former administrator.
The Mid-Illinois Newspapers, comprising the Mattoon Journal Gazette and
the Charleston Times-Courier, had tried to intervene in a federal
breach of contract lawsuit brought by former vice president Goble Jessup
against the college after he was fired in April 1997.
A settlement in the Jessup case was reached before a federal judge in
WASHINGTON -- Following a four-year court battle, a state judge
ordered a school district to pay more than $58,000 to the American Civil
Liberties Union in March for refusing to mail the organization 13 pages
of public documents.
The ACLU of Washington requested documents describing school district
policies and copies of disciplinary records in December 1995 from Blaine
School District in northwest Washington.
Bills would make high school athletic associations more open
The Georgia and Pennsylvania legislatures introduced bills
this session that would require their states' interscholastic athletic
associations to abide by state open-records and open-meetings laws.
Equity in Sports Act would deny education funding to high schools whose
interscholastic sports are regulated by athletic associations not adhering
to Georgia open-meetings and open-records statutes.
CALIFORNIA -- A state judge ordered a community college to
produce documents relating to a confidential 1999 discrimination settlement
Judge Larry Gaddis ruled that Sierra Joint Community College in Rocklin
must release all documents to the public regarding the settlement, including
the full amount paid by the college.
NEVADA -- In March, the state attorney general's office offered
to teach the University of Nevada Board of Regents a lesson on the proper
way to conduct public meetings.
Deputy Attorney General Victoria Oldenburg conducted an investigation
into the board's compliance with the Nevada Open Meeting Law, in response
to a complaint filed by Regent Tom Kirkpatrick against the board.
OHIO -- A federal judge refused to give a newspaper access to the
student disciplinary records of two Ohio universities on March 20, saying
the files qualify as education records and are protected from public release
by federal law.
KENTUCKY -- A new state law will require colleges and universities
to provide more timely and public information about campus crimes starting
Under the Michael
Minger Act, post-secondary institutions must keep an accurate log of
all crimes reported on campus available to the public.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Department of Education plans to launch
an online campus crime statistics database this year, requiring colleges
and universities to submit their crime statistics to the department electronically.
The Web site will provide campus crime statistics from colleges and
universities from 1996 through 1998, the same data that should have been
made available to the public on campuses last fall.
VERMONT -- The upperclassmen of the University of Vermont ice hockey
team called it tradition.
"It's going to be the worst, best night of your life," reported a freshman
hockey player to state investigators, describing what a senior team member
told him regarding the "Big Night."
On that "Big Night" in October, Corey LaTulippe was forced to walk in
line like an elephant, cradling the genitals of a fellow freshman walking
directly ahead, according to a report
from the state attorney general's office.
As the economy fosters more ad revenue for student newspapers, many editors
and general managers are considering an investment in libel insurance.
Libel insurance, which provides liability coverage for media if they are
sued for libel, can protect the financial stability of a media organization.
Many critics, however, say coverage is often unnecessary -- especially
for smaller papers.
Kelly Wolff, general manager of the Educational Media Company at Virginia
Tech, which publishes three student publications and operates a student-run
television and radio station, said she was glad the company had insurance
both times it was sued for libel.
Although the lawsuits were both eventually thrown out on appeal, Wolff
said having insurance gave the company peace of mind.
"I think that is the reason for having it," Wolff said, "Mistakes happen.
People can sue somebody whenever they want to, whether they really have
a case or not."
Wolff would not disclose the particulars of the company's policy with
the Arizona-based Scottsdale Insurance Company, but said the paper's total
yearly budget is between $600,000 and $700,000.
"If our corporation lost a lawsuit that wasn't covered by insurance,
we might not exist," Wolff said.
ARIZONA -- An Arizona Superior Court judge sent a former Orlando
Magic basketball player back to the bench for good in December when he
dismissed his $1 million lawsuit over an article revealing his less-than-magic
Last October, Miles Simon filed a suit against his former school, the
University of Arizona, and The Kansas City Star over a 1997 article
published in the Star.
The article, "Bending the rules to win: MVP made grade only on the court,"
was the last in a six-part series examining the influence of money on National
Collegiate Athletic Association sports.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Supreme Court let stand in December
a state court ruling
that public school principals are neither "public figures" nor "public
officials" for the purposes of defamation law.
The Court, without comment, rejected an appeal of an Ohio Supreme Court
decision, which stated that public school principals do not "occupy a position
of such persuasive power and influence" that they can be deemed "public
figures" in libel cases.
One year after the Columbine High School shooting, courts are telling school
officials that the First Amendment still applies.
In three recent cases that have tested the balance between students’
free-speech rights and school officials’ safety concerns, judges have come
out emphatically on the side of free speech.
Courts are warning school districts that despite fears ignited by high-profile
shootings like the one in Littleton, Colo., they cannot trample on constitutionally
protected speech — even in the name of school safety.
“What the courts are starting to say clearly is that schools don’t have
the authority to punish people for exercising their freedom of speech,”
said Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of
Washington, which represented a student suspended for his Web site.
Since January, three separate federal courts have ruled in favor of
students who were suspended or expelled for speech that school officials
PENNSYLVANIA -- A student newspaper column about the results of
"overactive intestinal bacteria," inspired more than a few laughs at Hatboro-Horsham
High School; it sparked the confiscation of the entire Feb.
MISSOURI -- When student reporters at the Webster Groves
High School Echodecided to do a story on illegal cigarette sales
to minors, they had no idea they would be part of a news story themselves.
But after a student's film was destroyed by a co-manager at one of the
stores, the incident became the lead story on the evening news.
Reporters Hilary Johnson and Katie Zach were investigating the number
of local stores that illegally sell cigarettes to minors for the January
issue of the Echo. On Jan.
NEW YORK -- Despite their victory over administrators in retaining
the free-press guidelines the newspaper has operated under for 30 years,
the editors of the student newspaper at Freeport High School say they are
still waiting to publish their first issue.
"We've kind of won the battle but lost the war," said Flashings news
editor Michael Leonard.
CALIFORNIA -- Principals at two different high schools have censored
their schools' student newspapers in recent months, despite a 23-year-old
law that grants free-expression rights to students in the Golden State.
The principal of Nogales High School, in the Los Angeles suburb of La
Puente, confiscated all 2,400 copies of the Feb.
OHIO -- Four months after they were threatened with suspension for
handing out an underground newspaper, the editors of Lockdown finally
distributed a sequel to their controversial first issue -- across the street
from their high school.
Devin Aeh, the editor of Lockdown, had been trying for months
to win the right to hand out her publication at Nelsonville-York High School
but decided in February to distribute it across the street from the school
to avoid a possible suspension.
"I guess I'm glad that we were just getting to pass it out at all,"
NEW YORK -- A Buffalo high school student suspended for five days
in March is claiming that administrators violated his First Amendment rights
by punishing him for an independent newspaper he distributed at school.
But Clarence Central School District superintendent Thomas Coseo said
Steven Harnisch was punished for his defiant attitude toward school rules
and personnel, not his paper.
"He was suspended for disorderly conduct," Coseo said.
MASSACHUSETTS -- Out of frustration with the slow progress supporters
have made in getting states to pass anti-Hazelwood legislation,
one adviser is working to pass a bill at the national level.
Harry Proudfoot, a newspaper adviser at Westport High School, said he
believes passing one bill in Congress will be easier than passing 44 bills
in the states.
OREGON -- The Elkton community was not partying like it was 1999
when the millennium edition of the Elkton High School student newspaper,
Elk Call, hit the school's newsstands in December.
A sarcastic commentary published in reply to a letter from a community
member about the poor grades of Elkton students prompted the school board
to halt the distribution of 500 newspapers and order them destroyed.
The commentary was written by newspaper staff member Andy Baird in reply
to a letter to the editor from an Elkton community member bemoaning academic
problems at the school.
FLORIDA -- The former faculty adviser for a student newspaper filed
suit against the Palm Beach County School District in October, alleging
he was removed from his teaching position because of controversial articles
in the student newspaper.
Toby Eichas said the school failed to renew his contract after he resigned
from his adviser position.
The problems began during the 1998-99 school year when Boca Raton High
School's student newspaper, The Predator, published several controversial
columns containing Jewish stereotypes and sexual innuendoes.
After the controversial columns were published, principal Diana Harris
demanded to review every issue of the newspaper before publication.
In protest, Eichas resigned his adviser position, as did the student
The author of a student newspaper column that resulted in an outbreak of
racial tension at Florida's Gulf Coast High School in Naples will
no longer be permitted to have her byline published in the newspaper.
The school principal told Tiffany Thompson, co-editor of The Gulf
Coastline, in April that she will still be able to do layout work and
co-write stories but will not be able to write any more articles herself.
The commentary Thompson wrote for the March issue, titled "Can I be
brutally honest: homie G the enemy," criticized the rap music industry
for the role models it creates.
WASHINGTON -- After receiving complaints from cafeteria workers
over a student newspaper commentary that called school lunches "gross,"
the principal of Whitman Middle School in Seattle prohibited the publication
of anything in The Source "that is critical of or might be construed
as critical of any Whitman staff member or program."
"It is important that our staff works as a team and that concept is
jeopardized if we are publicly critical of each other or allow students
to publicly criticize staff members, especially in print," principal Jane
Lambert said in a memo.
But newspaper adviser Maggie Everett called the principal's directive
CALIFORNIA -- After several months of legal battles, a Sacramento
County Superior Court judge quashed a subpoena asking a student editor
to turn over unpublished photos taken during a fight at a football game.
Judge Gerald S.
FLORIDA -- Miami high school officials returned film they had confiscated
in February from a student journalist working on a story about random in-school
weapons searches -- after they developed the negatives.
Leandro Leon, editor of South Dade High School's newspaper, The Scene, was
trying to take a photo of security guards conducting a search when guards
from Vanguard Security, a private security firm contracted by the school
to perform searches of students, barricaded him in a classroom and confiscated
The guards were searching the belongings of students in a classroom
after they removed the students from the room.
"They evidently sealed off all of the exits and thus left me in the
room locked in there," Leon said.
"[The security guards] repeated, 'Give me the film!
MICHIGAN -- The Michigan State University student newspaper and
10 other media organizations will not have to turn over unpublished photos
taken during a riot on the Michigan State campus, the state court of appeals
ruled in March.
The court of appeals upheld a lower court's decision to quash a subpoena
issued by an Ingham County prosecutor who sought photographs the media
organizations had taken during riots that erupted after Duke University's
men's basketball team defeated Michigan State in the 1999 NCAA Final Four
The court of appeals will not allow "a prosecutor's office to, in effect,
conduct a fishing expedition utilizing the media as its indentured servant,"
said Judge William B.
As the number of schools wired to the Internet increases, so do fears over
the kinds of material students are able to access on classroom computers.
Across the country, school boards and state legislatures are responding
to these fears by installing filtering software to limit the sites students
Supporters of Internet filters say they are trying to prevent students
from viewing sites with inappropriate material, such as pornography.
ARIZONA -- In an effort to prevent public university students from
accessing pornography on the Internet, a state legislator introduced two
bills in January that seek to restrict Internet access among college students.
The first bill, HB
2024, introduced by Rep.
WASHINGTON -- Three high school students who were fined and suspended
in November after a stranger posted an anonymous death threat on a Web
site they created successfully appealed to the school board to have the
The students from Eastlake High School in Sammamish created the Web
site from their homes as a forum for their classmates.
PENNSYLVANIA -- A middle school teacher and principal are suing
a former student for defaming them in his personal Web site.
Justin Swidler was expelled from Nitschmann Middle School in Bethlehem
in August 1998 after school officials discovered his Web page.
A Pennsylvania student expelled in December for an online conversation
with a friend has filed a lawsuit against his private high school.
In the America Online Instant Messenger conversation, which took place
from the students' homes, the student said "stupid people should be banished
or killed." At the end of the conversation he said he did not really think
stupid people should be killed, instead saying they were annoying.
How school authorities at Friends' Central School in Wynnewood received
a transcript of the exchange is uncertain.
INDIANA -- The heavy metal band Metallica sued a popular MP3-format
music retrieval site and several universities in April for copyright infringement
in an effort to end online music piracy.
Users of the site, Napster.com, are able to share song files between
computers connected to the Internet.
MISSISSIPPI -- The state attorney general's office said in January
that the University of Mississippi does not have to release campus crime
reports or police logs pertaining to a 1999 fraternity party incident that
sent five female students to the hospital.
The Daily Mississippian, the university's student newspaper,
and The Clarion-Ledger, a Jackson newspaper, requested the reports
from campus police shortly after the incident occurred in November.