Spring 2001

SPLC launches First Amendment Fund

This summer, the Student Press Law Center will launch the First Amendment Fund to protect the rights of student journalists. "Anyone who works with students recognizes that they frequently have to fight for their right to cover important issues," says Mary Arnold Hemlinger, youth journalism and diversity consultant for the Newspaper Association of American Foundation and chair of the SPLC's board of directors. Read more

Decision frees college press from censorship

KENTUCKY -- After seven years, the members of the Kentucky State University class of 1994 will finally receive their yearbooks. KSU officials agreed to distribute the books in February as part of a settlement with two students who sued the university for violating their First Amendment rights by confiscating the 1994 edition of the Thorobred. Under the terms of the settlement, Kentucky State will attempt to reach 90 percent of the students eligible to receive the yearbook, which was funded with student activity fees. Read more

Wisconsin student fees battle rages on

WISCONSIN -- The University of Wisconsin at Madison is appealing a federal court's ruling that its student-fee allocation system is still not viewpoint-neutral and therefore unconstitutional. The case, Fry v. Read more

Controversial ad helps spike surge in theft of newspapers

Newspaper thefts on college campuses increased dramatically this spring, due in part to a controversial advertisement that has triggered thefts and protests on campuses across the country. Although students rarely pay for an issue of their campus paper, producing a newspaper costs money -- sometimes lots of it. Read more

Administrators seize mysterious files

OREGON -- A student editor filed a lawsuit against three university officials March 16 for violating his First Amendment rights and confiscating a box of confidential university records that landed outside his office door. Portland State University officials locked Dimitrius Desyllas, editor of an alternative campus publication, The Rearguard, out of the newspaper's office and detained him for more than two hours after they learned he had the box of confidential student disciplinary records, Desyllas said. Read more

Editors file lawsuit against state university for actions designed to paralyze publication

ILLINOIS -- Several months of controversy surrounding Governors State University's student newspaper will likely drag on following a decision by student editors to sue the university for violating their First Amendment rights. Although school officials said the editors can publish at any time and have simply chosen not to, the students say their ability to produce a newspaper has been effectively crippled. The editor and managing editor of The Innovator filed suit against the GSU Board of Trustees and three administrators Jan. Read more

Secret Service agents, school officials veto students' coverage of first family

President Bush has only been in office for a few months, but student journalists at two universities have already encountered problems stemming from their coverage of the first family. In February, three Secret Service agents detained and questioned Glenn Given, managing editor of the Stony Brook Press, a satirical campus newspaper at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, about a column he wrote in which he asked God to "smite" President Bush. According to Given, the agents said they feared the article might be interpreted by some as a divine call to harm the president. Read more

Official tries to strike paper's funding

VIRGINIA -- James Madison may have been the author of the First Amendment, but an official at his namesake university does not like the idea of a free, campus-funded student press. Charles Cunningham, a member of the university's board of visitors, has tried to sever school funding of James Madison University's student newspaper twice-once as a student and now as an administrator. Cunningham asked the university administration at a March 23 board meeting to prepare a report detailing the funding and operation of The Breeze because of an insert the newspaper began publishing this year called Turf. Cunningham said he does not think Turf positively represents the university, according to Breeze editor Julie Sproesser. Sproesser said Turf is a "comedic, satirical entertainment magazine ... it's supposed to be funny." But after a friend sent Cunningham a copy of the Feb. Read more

Student journalist wins battle to keep motorcycle-rally footage confidential

MONTANA -- A July Hells Angels gathering in Missoula left behind more than the usual trail of exhaust and skid marks. Read more

The Price of Paid Speech

Advertisements usually sit quietly along the edge of a newspaper's page, helping publishers to pay the bills and advertisers to sell a product. They are not supposed to alienate readers. Read more

Judge orders alumni magazine to publish group's advocacy ad

NEW JERSEY -- A public university's alumni magazine cannot refuse advocacy advertising because doing so violates the First Amendment rights of advertisers, according to a March court ruling. Rutgers Alumni Council 1000 sued Rutgers University in 1999 after the alumni publication, Rutgers University Magazine, refused to publish the group's advertisement urging university officials to shift their focus from athletics to academics. The magazine said the ad violated its policy against advocacy advertising, but Rutgers 1000 argued that the policy was not put in writing until after it filed a lawsuit, and a judge agreed. Read more

Supreme Court refuses to hear paper's appeal

PENNSYLVANIA -- The U.S. Supreme Court declined in January to hear a college student newspaper's appeal of a state law banning alcohol ads in college publications. Now the case is headed back to a federal district court for a full hearing. The 1996 law prohibits businesses from advertising alcohol in publications produced "by, for, or in behalf of any education institution." The U.S. Read more

Cyberlaw in the New Millennium

Click here for the updated legal guide Read more

The Digital Divide

The Constitution has spoken, the courts have spoken -- even the TV series "Boston Public" has spoken. Read more

New law requires schools to block Internet access to 'harmful' content

The World Wide Web has gained a great deal of popularity because of its easy accessibility to a wide range of topics and information: music, clothes, news, jobs and health. Read more

Filter face-off: Consumer Reports magazine puts software to the test

Following the enactment of the Children's Internet Protection Act, Consumer Reports magazine tested the effectiveness of six Internet filtering products plus America Online's parental control function. Read more

District pays $62,000 in damages after losing suit filed by student suspended for Web site

WASHINGTON -- School administrators received a lesson in First Amendment rights in February after a judge approved a settlement granting more than $60,000 to a student who was suspended for posting a Web site that poked fun at his assistant principal. Karl Beidler was awarded $10,000 in damages and $52,000 in attorney's fees following negotiations between the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which represented Beidler, and the North Thurston County School District. The settlement came after a Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled in July that Beidler's First Amendment rights were violated when he was suspended. "Today the First Amendment protects students' speech to the same extent as in 1979 or 1969, when the U.S. Read more

Parents file libel suit against school

CALIFORNIA -- A family filed a lawsuit against the Lompoc Unified School District for libel and invasion of privacy in March after a school newspaper published an article containing accusations of abuse and alcoholism within the family that they say are false. Jerry and Barbara Reyes, parents of Cabrillo High School student Christina Reyes, sued the school district claiming that an article published in the student newspaper, Fore and Aft, contained untrue statements falsely attributed to Christina Reyes. The March 2000 article, which discussed the effects of divorce on children, allegedly reported that 16-year-old Christina Reyes said her father was an alcoholic who physically abused her mother and sexually molested her sister. Read more

Professor calls newspaper article defamatory

MASSACHUSETTS -- Teachers suing students, a situation once considered rare, is now becoming more common among high school and college students and faculty. In one of the most recent cases, Salem State College professor Adeleke Atewologun sued student newspaper editor Ed Justen, newspaper adviser Ellen Golub and the school itself in December claiming he was libeled in an article in The Log that reported that he was arrested for domestic violence. According to court records, Atewologun claims Justen defamed him in a December article about a sexual harassment charge in which Justen said Atewologun was arrested in 1993 on a domestic abuse charge. Atewologun, who denies all allegations, is suing for $216,000 in damages, claiming that his reputation was ruined as a result of the article. "It is simply not true," Atewologun said. Read more

Violent Crimes, Secret Courts

Two years ago, Congress made it harder for colleges and universities to hide violent crime behind the ivy-covered walls of their campus courts by passing legislation specifically allowing schools to release the disciplinary records of students found responsible for violent crimes. Read more

Switch to digital threatens to kill the buzz of the newsroom scanner

Although the digital age has often meant unprecedented improvements in access to information, new digital communications devices in use by police and emergency departments may mean just the opposite for news reporters. Many cities are switching to the digital devices to ensure security, but with increased security comes restricted access for the media and the public because traditional radio scanners no longer work. Read more

DOE investigates colleges' crime reporting

The U.S. Department of Education conducted inquiries into campus crime reporting practices at both The College of New Jersey and Bowling Green State University this year. The College of New Jersey was selected for review because of a professor's complaint that the college had not reported three sexual assaults on campus during the 1996-97 academic year. Read more

Lawmakers introduce campus crime bills

Both state and federal legislators have introduced bills in the last few months to increase the availability of information about certain crimes and criminals on college campuses. Legislatures in both California and Tennessee are considering bills that would require convicted sex offenders enrolled at colleges or universities to register with campus officials. The California bill (AB 4) would require all sex offenders to register with campus police within five working days of enrollment, whether they live on campus or not. Read more

Daily Kansan wins access to accident report

KANSAS -- Twelve refusals by police did not stop the University of Kansas student newspaper staff from accessing an accident report. Despite the Kansas Highway Patrol's claim that the report was exempt from the state open-records act, The University Daily Kansan decided to take its request to court where a judge ordered the cops to comply. When The Kansan requested access to the report on a fatal September car accident involving two local residents, state police said they would not release the report because it was part of a criminal investigation. But Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock ruled in March that the record should be considered public and turned over to the newspaper. John Eichkorn, state public information officer for the Kansas Highway Patrol, said the patrol then turned over the records and will not appeal the decision. According to Eichkorn, the patrol initially refused the newspaper's request to avoid jeopardizing the pending criminal investigation that later resulted in a 16-year-old pleading no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Nathan Willis, now opinion editor of The Kansan, filed suit against the patrol in November, claiming the patrol violated the Kansas Open Records Act by refusing to release the report. In his decision, Bullock said he ruled in favor of the newspaper because Willis was simply requesting the report the patrol must forward to the Kansas Department of Transportation. Read more

Student newspaper reveals textbook prices after judge orders store to release invoices

NEW YORK -- A judge ruled in November that the state freedom of information law requires a community college bookstore to release its invoices to the student newspaper, despite the bookstore's claim that the invoices were proprietary information. The Hudson Valley Community College Faculty Student Association, a nonprofit group that runs the bookstore and other campus services, turned over the invoices in redacted form to editors at The Hudsonian student newspaper, who then published a story on the bookstore prices. Judge George Ceresia Jr. Read more

Alligator crawls into autopsy photo swamp

FLORIDA -- The University of Florida student newspaper stepped into the legal arena built around legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt's autopsy photos in March to challenge a settlement made between Earnhardt's widow and the Orlando Sentinel. That settlement allowed the Sentinel to have an independent medical examiner evaluate photographs from Earnhardt's autopsy, after which the photos were to be sealed. Read more

Community college presidents are not public officials, according to ruling by Nevada court

NEVADA -- The state supreme court ruled in March that the president of a community college is not a public officer and that at least parts of a college's presidential search may be conducted privately. The decision came after The Las Vegas Review-Journal sued in September to prevent the Community College of Southern Nevada Board of Regents from privately interviewing presidential candidates. Read more

Newspaper joins board of trustees fight

ALABAMA -- Student and professional journalists have joined together to sue the Auburn University Board of Trustees because of what they believe are violations of the state's open-meetings law. Six professional newspapers, along with the Alabama Press Association and Auburn's student newspaper, The Auburn Plainsman, filed a lawsuit Feb. Read more

FERPA Fundamentalism

For more than 25 years, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), or "Buckley Amendment," has protected the privacy of student education records.[1] Recently, however, some school districts have given the Act a curious interpretation. Read more

Stink of censorship threatens to knock out story about dirty school bathrooms

NEW YORK -- The staff of the Francis Lewis High School student newspaper thought the bathrooms at their school stunk. Students were upset by restrictive policies on student bathroom use, such as the "10-minute rule," which called for bathrooms to be locked the first and last 10 minutes of class and a ban on more than two bathrooms -- one for each sex -- being open at the same time. Read more

Student press supporters pessimistic about future of free-expression bills

When two states introduced student freedom-of-expression bills, student press supporters were ready for a First Amendment fight. Read more

Administrators reprimand adviser for column

MICHIGAN -- A high school newspaper adviser was reprimanded after a student's column criticizing the observance of Black History Month sparked debate among local students and parents. The trouble started in March after an article critical of Black History Month was published in the February edition of Plymouth Salem High School's P-CEP Perspective. The article, written by senior Chris MacKinder, questioned the need to celebrate Black History Month, claiming that by celebrating the month "race once again becomes a popular topic of discussion." He added that celebrating Black History Month was unfair because other groups and races were not celebrated. MacKinder's column caused an uproar, mainly in the African-American community, which requested a meeting with school administrators and demanded that MacKinder be expelled and newspaper adviser Mary Lou Nagy be fired. Instead, administrators reprimanded Nagy by relieving her of her three classes and placing her in an administrative position for eight days. Read more

Students secure return of newspaper

OHIO -- It all happened rather quickly. One day the student newspaper was distributed, the next day it was suspended, and six eventful days later, it was returned to the students. While some might laud the return of the Walnut Hills High School student paper as a victory for the student press, staff members are not so ready to claim success. Philip Ewing, co-editor of The Chatterbox, called it a "limited victory." Although the principal gave the newspaper back to the students, he also implemented a new set of rules that would give him "a way to censor us," Ewing said. The struggle started in March when Walnut Hills principal Marvin O. Koenig suspended the student newspaper because of a column and a cartoon featured on the humor page in the March 15 issue that poked fun at the assistant principal. The column, written by humor page editor Sean Krebs, criticized school administrators for holding Saturday school, a form of detention for skipping class that requires students to report to school on Saturdays. Read more

Court overturns student's conviction for threat

NORTH CAROLINA -- The worst is over for Joshua Mortimer. In February, a state court of appeals overturned his 1999 conviction for communicating threats. Read more

Editors battle principal over yearbook

CALIFORNIA -- Almost a year has passed since the principal of Salinas High School first put the yearbook staff on probation for what he described as a publication filled with inappropriate content. Read more

Censorship of student press widespread

Three-fourths of both high school principals and advisers at schools around the country say their student newspapers are censored, a recent survey revealed. Of those principals and advisers who agreed that their newspapers were censored, 39 percent of the principals and 40 percent of the advisers indicated that the censorship was done by the adviser. Read more

Student suspended for column wins 8-year fight

ILLINOIS -- An eight-year-long legal battle finally came to a close in November when the Chicago Board of Education agreed to pay $40,000 to a former student who was suspended for criticizing her school's "no shorts" policy in the student newspaper. Cynthia Hanifin was a 17-year-old student at Hubbard High School in Chicago when she was suspended in 1993 for four days for the column. Read more

Principal punishes honor students for 'hurtful' paper

PENNSYLVANIA -- Several students were suspended in March for distributing an underground newspaper that administrators said contained "hurtful" comments about other students at the school. Council Rock High School principal David Yates suspended the honor students after they created and distributed copies of The Laundromat Liberator, which attacked three students in particular with "hurtful, embarrassing and slanderous" comments, Yates told The Philadelphia Inquirer. Yates would not specify how many students were suspended or for how long. Read more

Official halts distribution of 'disruptive publication'

FLORIDA -- A high school principal canceled the distribution of the student newspaper in February because of a column criticizing school administrators and teachers that he called "disruptive to the school." Palm Coast High School principal Larry Hungsinger ordered students to stop distributing the remaining 200 copies of the Feb. Read more

School disciplines girl for list of frustrations

NEVADA -- School administrators suspended a student in March after they found a list she created of people with whom she is "frustrated." The Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School student was suspended for 10 days after school officials learned of the list, which included names of fellow classmates who frustrate her. A sheriff's investigation into the incident concluded that the girl posed no immediate threat because she did not have access to any weapons and she did not make any direct threats. The sheriff's department got involved after receiving an anonymous tip. Richard Siegel, president of the American Civil Liberties of Nevada criticized Douglas County officials for "overstepping their bounds." Read more