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The Seattle decision: providing ammunition for student responsibility. Part 1

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By H. L. Hall

In what might be a landmark decision, a Superior Court judge in Washington ruled July 22, 2011, in Sisley v Seattle School District #1, that public high schools are not liable for the content of student-produced newspapers.

Student Press Law Center spokesmen have said this ruling is the first to ever establish liability protection at the high school level. They think this presents a case for allowing students to make content decisions, as a school district should not have to be concerned about being sued.

Although the decision in this case is not the law of the land, it has the possibility of becoming so, as Sisley is appealing. The appeal process could take six months or more.

It is imperative JEA follow the appeal procedures because additional rulings could have great impact on school publications throughout the country. This ruling could lead to less censorship because school officials would not have to worry about liability.

In the meantime, the Scholastic Press Rights Commission offers teaching materials so you can discuss the decision and its implications with your students now. Included here are:
• A lesson plan by Chris Waugaman on the decision
• A PowerPoint by H. L. Hall usable with students and administrators about the implications of the decision
Resources about the decision and related issues

Later this week we will post links to a master’s thesis by Kristy Roschke that looks at what courts have considered disruptive in scholastic media cases.

Part 2 of this series: Ammunition to help define disruption

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