Posts made in May, 2011

Re-establishing our belief in the right forum

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Just because the 2nd Circuit Federal Appeals Court recently handed down a decision in R.O. v. Ithaca City School District laden with shaky interpretations and references, it is not time to surrender or alter our beliefs.

“Drawings of stick figures in sexual positions clearly qualify as ‘lewd,’ that is, ‘inciting to sensual desire or imagination,’” Second Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in the decision about why the school could censor an independent student publication and the school’s student paper, which had attempted unsuccessfully to run the drawing in the first place.

The decision also said even though school’s paper, the Tattler, was a “limited public forum,” the cartoon could still be censored.

The Student Press Law Center reported in a May 18 article, “The Second  Circuit, however, distinguished between a ‘limited’ public forum and a ‘designated’ public forum, holding that a ‘limited’ forum newspaper remains subject to Hazelwood.”

If not reversed, that decision could damage student media forum status, but other courts could also ignore it as an aberration.

The First Amendment Center’s President, Ken Paulson,  said May 20 in a commentary (which also provides access to the student artwork), “the cartoon was censored because the school found it embarrassing, not because it would unleash the sexual imaginations of ninth graders. They can pretty much do that on their own.”

Paulson said images on the Internet and sexting expose students to far worse.

“In this environment,”Paulson wrote, “it seems a stretch to call anatomically vague stick figures ‘sexually explicit.’”

SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte said the decision was a misapplication of the law. “The court just fundamentally misunderstood what it means to be a limited public forum,” LoMonte said. “A forum where the government gets to pick and choose which cartoons it likes is meaningless.”

“All that this ruling really changes,” LoMonte said, “is that the term ‘limited public forum’ by itself apparently is going to be meaningless. And, as in Hazelwood itself, the court looked to the actual practice as well as what was on paper.”

If the adviser starts acting like the assignment editor, he said, it’s going to be held against the students, and a court is not going to recognize the paper as a true forum paper.

“You, the adviser, are ‘the state,’” LoMonte said, “and the more actively the state is involved in editorial decisions, the less likely the paper will be a forum regardless of what appears in the masthead and even in the policy manual.”

Simply calling student media “limited public forums” may no longer be enough, LoMonte said. In an email to the JEA listserv, LoMonte said any decent publications policy will have to go further than the “forum” buzzword and will have to enumerate with precision the exclusive grounds on which censorship is permissible. LoMonte has added additional information in a new post May 22.

For those who have “limited public forums” policies, or others concerned about maintaining their forum status, here are a couple suggestions:

• Look at your policy. If it just states you are a limited public forum, add or clarify language that explains what that means and how students make that the framework of professional standards. Look at model and state law language.
• Add or clarify language that shows how students will avoid unprotected speech and report accurately, thoroughly and in context.
• Add or clarify language that students make all final decisions of content and why that is important.

Although he warned JEA members the Ithaca decision could be the “worst legal setback” since Hazelwood, LoMonte also said it is such an outlandish overreach “it may become in New York, Vermont and Connecticut what Hosty v. Carter became for the college media in Illinois — the impetus for legislators to fix the law.”

 

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Student journalist/editor wins primary election in school district where he has been censored

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UPDATE

ROCHESTER, PA: High school senior Aaron Brant, editor-in-chief of the Rochester High School student newspaper, “The Oracle”, has been censored several times this year, by the administration at his school. Brant has won democratic and republican tickets in the primary election for a seat on the very school board where he attends school. He will now appear with the other four candidates in the fall election where five seats are open. Citizens in Pennsylvania can run for school board at age 18.

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Student journalist runs for school board in district where he and his fellow journalists are being censored

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Aaron Brant and the ACLU have challenged the censorship of  “The Oracle”, the student newspaper at Rochester High School in Rochester, Pa.

Aaron is on the ballot in tomorrow’s primary elections in Pennsylvania where he is running for school board. Yes, you can run for school board in Pa. when you are 18.

Here are two news stories, an op/ed, and a Beaver County blog:

News stories

http://beavercountian.com/content/daily/aaron-brant-rochester-school-district-aclu

http://beavercountian.com/content/daily/rochester-student-confronts-his-censors

Op/Ed quoting Frank Lomonte, SPLC.

http://beavercountian.com/content/daily/rochester-censorship

Blog

http://www.rasd.net/?s=aaron+brant

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#WPFD

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While you are re-posting “Free the press — all of it. http://bit.ly/f3wE2Y, be sure to go to #wpfd on Twitter, to add your comments that a strong segment of media in the United States is also not free: that of the scholastic media.

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So say we all…

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#wpfd

“Free the press – all of it.”

Pass it on.

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