Spring 2000

Teaching freedom where it does not exist

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. Read more

Supreme Court upholds student fees

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 grounds. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Read more

Student body president, administrator halt Md. newspaper's presses on election day

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 endorsements. Howell said SGA president Julian Dash called him on the morning of March 16 asking to see a copy of the newspaper. Read more

Appellate court to hear Kincaid oral arguments

OHIO -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit will hear arguments in the college censorship case Kincaid v. Read more

Students sue community college district for putting restrictions on campus speech

CALIFORNIA -- Welcome to Irvine Valley College, where the fight for free speech by professors and students has been going on for more than two years. 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. Read more

Newspaper thieves face punishment

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 offense. Read more

Professor wins lawsuit against administration

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 Dissent, were causing a hostile working environment. Read more

Thieves filch newspapers at 6 colleges

The newspaper theft file at the Student Press Law Center keeps growing thicker with the addition of publication thefts at six universities. Read more

College students confront censorship

Journalism department faculty at Auburn University in Alabama are fighting a proposal to make the journalism department part of the school's communications department. Read more

Editors defeat proposal to put newspaper under control of communications school

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 newspaper. Following widely publicized criticism of Hudson's suggested changes, second and third drafts of the proposal were released. Read more

Senate locks doors to newspaper office in battle over advertisement

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 controversial ad. 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. Read more

College president threatens to file libel suit against N.Y. student paper

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. Read more

Newspapers sue for access to settlement terms

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 the U.S. Read more

District's refusal to mail documents costs $58,575

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. Read more

Bills would make high school athletic associations more open

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. The Georgia 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. Read more

Judge orders community college to reveal details of settlement

CALIFORNIA -- A state judge ordered a community college to produce documents relating to a confidential 1999 discrimination settlement in March. 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. Read more

Attorney general offers to teach regents lesson on open meetings

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. Read more

Federal judge prohibits Ohio schools from releasing campus court records

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. U.S. Read more

Kentucky will require colleges to make police logs more open

KENTUCKY -- A new state law will require colleges and universities to provide more timely and public information about campus crimes starting in September. Under the Michael Minger Act, post-secondary institutions must keep an accurate log of all crimes reported on campus available to the public. Read more

Education Department to launch online crime statistics database

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. Read more

Judge orders university to turn over hazing records to local newspaper

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. Read more

Student papers turn to insurance for protection from libel lawsuits

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. Read more

Former basketball player loses privacy suit against school

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 grades. 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. Read more

Supreme Court lets Ohio ruling on principals stand

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. Read more

The First Amendment vs. school safety

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 deemed threatening. Read more

Students say principal's decision to confiscate newspapers stinks

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. Read more

Store apologizes to reporter for destroying film

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. Read more

Editors win fight to keep free-press guidelines

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. Read more

Principals censor newspapers at two Calif. schools

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. Read more

Students hand out underground paper off campus after school administrators threaten suspension

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," Aeh said. Read more

Editor says officials punished him for publication

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. Read more

Two states defeat anti-Hazelwoodbills

Legislation designed to protect student expression in school-sponsored publications died in Alabama in April after the bill's sponsor withdrew it from consideration. Read more

Supporter wants federal press protections

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. Read more

Commentary provokes principal to pull papers

OREGON -- The Elkton community was not partying like it was 1999 when the millennium edition of the Elkton High School student newspaper, The 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. Read more

Teacher sues Florida district after contract is not renewed

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 editor. Read more

High school students face punishment for speech

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. Read more

Administrator bans criticism in paper after editorial attack on cafeteria food

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 censorship. Read more

The First Amendment On the Air

Click here for the updated legal guide Read more

Student editor wins subpoena battle

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. Read more

Security guards confiscate film during weapons search

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 his film. 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! Read more

State appeals court quashes riot subpoena

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 Tournament. 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. Read more


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 can access. Supporters of Internet filters say they are trying to prevent students from viewing sites with inappropriate material, such as pornography. Read more

Arizona considers bill to block sex sites on college campuses

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. Read more

Board reverses decision to fine, punish student Web hosts for chat room threat

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 decision reversed. The students from Eastlake High School in Sammamish created the Web site from their homes as a forum for their classmates. Read more

Teacher sues eighth grader expelled for home page

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. Read more

Students fight Internet censorship, restrictions

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. Read more

Universities block access to popular music site

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. Read more

Attorney general accuses KSU officials of improperly destroying public record

KENTUCKY -- Kentucky State University, which is being sued by former students for violating their First Amendment rights in Kincaid v. Read more

State attorney general says fraternity party police report exempt from law

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. Read more