[lg policy] Proposed Seattle school-newspaper policy raises censorship concerns

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Nov 7 16:46:44 UTC 2011

Proposed Seattle school-newspaper policy raises censorship concerns

A proposed policy would give principals the power to review student
newspapers before they are published and prevent publication if they
deem the material to be "not in keeping with the school's
instructional mission and values," among other criteria.

By Brian M. Rosenthal

Seattle Times education reporter

A proposal being considered by the Seattle School Board could have a
chilling impact on free speech in the city's high schools, First
Amendment activists say.

The proposed policy would give principals the authority to review
high-school newspapers before they are published and would allow them
to stop publication if they deem material to be libelous, obscene or
"not in keeping with the school's instructional mission and values,"
among other criteria.

The proposal was introduced along with dozens of other policy updates
at last week's School Board meeting, and it has since been debated on
various neighborhood blogs. Two top editors at the Ballard High School
paper, The Talisman, spent the weekend posting signs around the school
titled "Student 1st Amendment Rights at Risk." The board will vote on
the proposal Dec. 7.

It is the district's first attempt to establish guidelines for
oversight of school papers. While a clause in the student handbook
provides for freedom of the press, the district has left specific
implementation up to individual schools, spokeswoman Teresa Wippel

Wippel added that the proposal is meant to prevent disruptions of the
learning environment — a power given to schools by law.

The language in the proposal is essentially word for word what is
suggested by the Washington State School Directors' Association, a
group that works with school boards across the state. While the
association has recommended the policy since 2001, many districts have
opted for less restrictive guidelines, association spokesman David
Brine said.

In Seattle, the district agreed with the recommended language because
it clearly outlines what is and is not protected, said Harium
Martin-Morris, chairman of the School Board's curriculum and
instruction committee, which approved the proposal at its last

"It's to make sure we don't do things that are libelous or
inflammatory or any of those things," Martin-Morris said.

But Kathy Schrier, executive director of the Washington Journalism
Education Association, says the proposal goes much further than that.

"It opens the door for administrators to pretty much censor at will,"
she said. "It's just sort of, if you don't like the way something
sounds or you think it's going to cause a phone call or something,
then all of a sudden it doesn't keep with the values of the school."

The two student editors at Ballard, who are working with Schrier, agree.

"If our principal is looking at everything we write, we may lose the
ability to cover what we want to cover," said student Kate Clark.

The other student, Katie Kennedy, said The Talisman's adviser makes
suggestions but currently can't veto articles.

Schrier, Clark and Kennedy also said the oversight added in the
proposed policy would make the district legally liable for content in
the paper.

They pointed to a recent legal decision by a Washington state judge
who ruled that Seattle Public Schools was not liable for an article in
The Roosevelt News, Roosevelt High School's paper, in part because of
the district's freedom of the press.

Despite that ruling, district officials say another judge may find the
district liable because student newspapers are printed using district
resources — even if the paper funds itself, it is still produced on
school property. Thus, it is in the district's interest to ensure that
papers don't print anything that could lead to a lawsuit, they


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