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Michigan schools face loss of open forum status

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Despite the Dean v. Utica court decision and despite the fact they have had histories of being forums for student expression, at least two more Michigan schools and their student media face school board rejection of that student media status.

In a number of similar instances, a common factor, according to boards and advisers, is the consulting group, NEOLA.

NEOLA released  a revised set of policies this fall for student media, 5722, which consisted of four possible selections instead of a single choice, last updated in 2000. The 2000 model NEOLA policy did not support an open forum concept for student media. NEOLA says its updated four choices have two non open forum models and two open forum ones.

Either of the two forum offerings, as NEOLA presents them, allows a district to choose which student media not to permit to be called open forums. School boards can pick and chose which of the options they want to adopt.

NEOLA says it does not advocate any of the four choices over the others.

Information reported in today’s Hometownlife.com reported otherwise for journalism students in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools.

“Acting on a recommendation from NEOLA,” the policy consultant used by the district,” the publication reported, “Plymouth-Canton’s policy committee recommended changes to the policy covering school-sponsored publications and productions.”

According to hometownlife, “The new policy, if adopted, applies to “school-sponsored media” such as Perspective, 88.1, yearbooks, playbills, blogs, library journals, theatrical productions and video and audio productions. It also extends to posters, pamphlets, and school-sponsored clothing such as T-shirts.”

The online publication also reported that a Michigan law firm supported imposing the restrictive Hazelwood interpretation of how school districts can control student media.

According to the article, school officials do not plan to change “the way we do business. We have an obligation to make sure our students maintain high standards of academic achievement.”

JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission is talking to Michigan advisers and NEOLA officials for additional information.

Reports of NEOLA-led changes came from the Dexter Schools. Student media in Dexter also face hostile blog attacks.

Anyone in Michigan or other states who faces similar actions over policy reversal should let their state JEA directors and the press rights commission know the details.

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