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What to tell your principal about Prior Review? QT 62

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Quick Hits: Student First Amendment Rights

The bad news is that administrators may legally ask to see stories before they are printed or aired, but prior review leaves them in an awkward situation, because of the good news below.

The good news is that they generally cannot ask students to change anything or spike the story. That would be prior restraint, allowed legally only under narrow conditions.*

Prior Review is a bad idea for both students and the school. But how do you convince the administrations?

You have two strong arguments against prior review. The first is a legal argument, the second is a pedagogical one.

First, when administrators review student publications prior to publishing, they and the school district become responsible for its content and policies. These three cases show the protection schools enjoy when they allow student control of student media:

  1. Because Lexington High School students made all the editorial, business and staffing decisions for both the LHS Yearbook and the school paper, a suit brought against the district failed. The adults were sued because the student leaders of the paper had refused to run two ads. The school’s superintendent, principal, the two publication advisers and the five school members of the school committee escaped unharmed from the suit that alleged they were violating the First and Fourteenth amendments when the school publications refused the ads. (Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals)
  2. Because the students, not the school district, decided which senior portraits to allow in the Londonderry High School yearbook, the district was protected from successful suit for First Amendment violation when the students rejected a senior portrait with a shotgun. The judge found that it was not the school district that rejected the photo. It was the student yearbook editors. “The state has not, it seems, suppressed Blake’s speech. His fellow students have done so.” (Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) in the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire.) 
  3. Because the students of Roosevelt High School in Seattle practiced strong journalism and controlled the content of their student media, a lower court ruled in favor of the Seattle Public Schools and against slumlords suing the district for libel following an article in The Roosevelt News, “Sisley Slums Cause Controversy: Developers and neighborhood clash over land use.”  The lower court ruled that if what the students write is true, it is not libel, and where the students make the content decisions, the school district is protected from successful suit. (Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011 in the Court of Appeals of Washington (state), Division 1)

Second, when administrators exercise prior review, students lose the opportunity to develop skill crucial to democracy, including the ability to recognize sound journalism and fake news. When students choose the content of their publications to please—or at least “get past”—administrators, they are denied the opportunity to apply what they learn in class about news values, ethics and press law.

In contrast, students who control the content of their publication regularly consider their audience’s right to know and individuals’ right to privacy. They judge the strength and reliability of sources. They strive to make their reporting fair and accurate. They come to cherish their audience’s trust and they admit mistakes, issue corrections and retractions, and live with the consequences. They are prepared to be responsible citizens as intelligent consumers of media.

There is no evidence that prior review by administration improves learning in any way.

 

 

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*In states under the Tinker standard, an administrator could restrain stories that pose a clear and present danger of inciting students to commit crimes on school premises or violate lawful school regulations, or substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school. The administrator could also restrain stories that contain obscenity or slander/libel.

 

In the states that remain under Hazelwood, the administrator would need a “legitimate pedagogical concern.”

 

Resources:

QuickHits So what does Hazelwood actually allow administrators to do?

QuickHits The Perks of Being a Wallflower: How a School District Escaped a Lawsuit by Fostering an Independent Student Press.  Yeo v. Town of Lexington (1997) in the First Circuit Court of Appeals

Quickhits More Perks of Being a Wallflower: How two other School District Escaped Lawsuits by Fostering an Independent Student Press. Douglass v. Londonderry School District (2005) and Sisley v. Seattle School District (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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