Pages Navigation Menu

A lesson for us all in Washington victory over policy change, and a call to action

Posted by on Nov 9, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by John Bowen and Kathy Schrier

Principals will not have a chance to prior review Seattle School District journalism students because the school board recently withdrew its proposed and controversial policy change.

“As a former journalism teacher, it is important for me — as I know it is for our Board — that we uphold our practice of trusting our teachers to educate our students on the rights and responsibilities that come with freedom of expression and a free press,” Interim Superintendent of Schools, Susan Enfield, a former journalism teacher and adviser,  said in a press release.

Supporters of the existing free expression policy will now have a year to convince the Seattle School District board to keep its hands off and continue to encourage students to make final decisions and have responsibility for content.

During the first week of November as part of a system-wide policy overhaul, school officials announced they would seek to change a 2o-year policy of allowing students to make final decisions of content without prior review. The Washington State School Directors Association had recommended the new policy.

Washington students, advisers, media groups and citizens mounted a public and active four-day campaign reporting about and speaking against the policy change.

The press release indicated the school district would revisit the issue in 2012 to see how a policy change might fit with community values.

Students and supporters met Nov. 8 to celebrate and plan

Student journalists from five of Seattle’s high schools (Ballard, Garfield, Nathan Hale, Roosevelt and West Seattle) met Nov. 8 in the Nathan Hale journalism room to debrief following a promise by Seattle interim Superintendent Susan Enfield to leave unchanged the district’s current student press rights policy. The meeting followed a four-day, whirlwind campaign to thwart the passage of Policy 3220, a controversial, restrictive student press policy.

The students came together to celebrate the immediate victory, as well as to talk about how they must work together to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. The discussion focused on how the district policy-making process appears to be badly flawed, especially since some school board members seem to be ready to approve policies they haven’t even read.

Students plan to create a Facebook page and a website to keep in touch with each other, as well as to co-produce an article and possible insert about procedures used to decide policies in their school district. Students hope to run the piece in all their papers at about the same time. A coalition of Seattle student journalists is now in the works with plans to meet regularly.

Applauded for their efforts in fighting back the passage of Policy 3220 were Katie Kennedy and Kate Clark, Ballard High School editors, who went on the attack with community flyers, letters to school board members and on-air interviews with local talk radio hosts.  The group also applauded NPR reporter Phyllis Fletcher, KPLU-FM Seattle (who was in the room covering the meeting), for first discovering the proposed policy change and alerting Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center, who in turn contacted the Washington Journalism Education Association.

Fletcher shared how she discovered the information on the policy. She explained how, as part of  her regular preparation for covering upcoming school board meetings, she looks at the agenda and tries to become familiar with the items for consideration. A red flag went up when she discovered the language in Policy 3220 under consideration.

Clearly, her quick action made all the difference in preventing its passage.

Garfield High School adviser Casey Henry shared with the group a late afternoon message to Seattle journalism advisers from Susan Enfield, in which she apologized for the “consternation” caused by the whole ordeal and promised to make sure any future revisions to the scholastic press policy in Seattle  will include input from media advisers.

Students in the room added  they should be included, as well, and intend to make that known to the superintendent and the board.

This was a close call for student journalists in Seattle Schools, with lessons to be learned about staying vigilant. In fact, the students discussed creating a session for the 2012 National JEA/NSPA Spring Convention in Seattle, a case study on four frantic days for student journalists and their supporters in Seattle that fortunately ended positively.

Coverage from Seattle-area media

Announcing the proposed change
• Stop the presses, let the principal check them first
• Seattle school board moves to censor student newspapers
• Proposed Seattle school-newspaper policy raises censorship concerns
• Students say Seattle school board threatens censorship

Announcing the withdrawal of the proposed changes
• Seattle public schools beats hasty retreat
• Students say school board ‘setting the stage for censorship’
• Proposed ‘censorship’ policy for school newspaper withdrawn (Ballard High School)
• Ballard High newspaper editor-in-chief Kate Clark on her censorship fight with the Seattle school board
• School board withdraws controversial proposal: free speech maintained for students
• Seattle public schools withdraws controversial student newspaper oversight proposal
• Schools back off on policing student papers
• KUOW-FM late afternoon story/interview with Ballard editors Kate and Katie
• The Stranger 

Other coverage
• How Seattle journalist got school censorship scoop
• Seattle school board pulls controversial publications proposal, will revisit in 2012
• Seattle School District seeks to remove forum policy for prior review
• Seattle school board pulls controversial publications proposal, will revisit in 2012



Read More

Seattle School District seeks to remove forum policy for prior review

Posted by on Nov 4, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Even though its current open forum policy helped it avoid a lawsuit earlier this year, the Seattle School District seems determined to change course and install prior review, making the adviser responsible for all content and the administrators able to review at will.

A decision earlier this year in the Sisley v Seattle School District case hinged on the school’s stand on recognizing student media as forums for student expression and without prior review. The court, in its ruling, stated, ” As a matter of law, plaintiffs are unable to prove that, consistent with the First Amendment, the [district] should have censored the student’s speech.”

Now, according to a report from NPR station KUOW in Seattle, “The Seattle School Board is considering a rule change that would affect student newspapers. For the first time, the district would let principals review a student paper before it’s published. The district proposes the change, even after it won a lawsuit this summer because its students have freedom of the press.”

According to KUOW, the Seattle district used a freedom of the press argument to win in the Sisley decision in addition to the truth argument of the student article. KUOW reports new standards, part of a system-wide overhaul, would call for prior review and give principals broad powers of control, including determining what is “inappropriate” and what is “disruptive.” The board will decide on the policy change December 7.

Washington Journalism Education Association’s Fern Valentine, who had seen the proposed policy, said in an email it clearly puts the adviser in charge of content supervision and gives administrators prior review. The policy also uses other language like not publishing material “inappropriate for the maturity level of the students” and criticism of school officials that could lead to substantial disruption of the school.

KUOW quoted SPLC consultant Mike Hiestand that such a change would make the district liable for content.

“The minute that you open the door and say that a principal has that authority,” Hiestand told the station, “as a plaintiff’s attorney, you know, I start to salivate.”

Kathy Schrier, Executive Director for the Washington Journalism Education Association, said the potential move sets the stage for censorship of student expression

“WJEA is dismayed to see that this deeply flawed cookie cutter policy is endorsed by the Washington State School Directors Association,” Schrier said, “and worse, that it is being considered for adoption in the Seattle School District. This proposed policy removes responsibility for content from student editors and sets the stage for administrative censorship.”

Schrier also noted  Seattle has long had an excellent, clearly worded policy that set a high standard for student accountability with the expectation students would follow the law.

“The new policy, if adopted,” she said, “will create a chilling effect on scholastic journalism in Seattle schools, as has happened in other districts where this policy has been established. WJEA will fight the adoption of Policy 3220 by the Seattle School Board.”

WJEA president Vince DeMiero said the student publication policies under consideration by the Seattle School District are inconsistent with federal and state law, state code and best educational practices.

“They are in stark contrast to the wonderful policy that has served the district, educators and students so well for at least the past 20 years,” DeMiero said. “Policy 3220 continues to be pushed by the Washington State School Directors’ Association even though it is inconsistent with federal and state law, state code and best educational practice.

DeMiero said the policy is inconsistent with WSSDA’s own stated mission to “support public school directors’ efforts to improve student learning.”

“Policy 3220,” he said, “does nothing to improve teaching or learning in Seattle or anywhere else.”

John Hamer, President and Executive Director of Washington News Council, spoke to the value of students making decisions to learn critical thinking.

“Student journalists should have the freedom to express themselves and cover their school communities just as professional and citizen journalists do,” Hamer said of his personal views. “The more responsibility they are given, the more careful and ethical they will be. Many student journalists nationwide have already taken our (Washington News Council) ‘TAO of Journalism’ pledge to be Transparent, Accountable and Open. That’s a far better approach than prior review and administrative censorship.”

JEA has long opposed and condemned prior review as an tool without legitimate educational value, as well as a legally questionable practice. We continue to do so in this and other incidents.

Watch for more information on this situation.

For more information on the situation, go to KUOW radio

For background on events earlier this year and lessons about the decision, including the importance of the Sisley decision, go here.

For additional information on censorship research and fighting prior review, go here and here.

For JEA’s position on prior review and more on questioning it, go here.





Read More

Parents are the keys to saving J-programs

Posted by on Sep 3, 2009 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


On Aug. 27th, I talked about the learning that is lost when J-programs are cancelled.  But how do we save them or get them reinstated?   Parents are the key.   Administrators and school board members may not pay attention to teachers whose programs are threatened, but they certainly pay attention to parents.   Parents of students in threatened programs and parents of former students need to emphasize to administrators and board members how much their students learned.   They need to make it clear that the learning on a publications staff is unique and helps student succeed in college and beyond.

Even if a current program isn’t threatened for now, it still needs parental support.  Administrators certainly get negative phone calls when some one in the community doesn’t like a topic covered in a school publication, so positive messages can offset the bad and create a positive image for the programs.

I realize it is too late to save programs cancelled for Fall Semester, but reinstatement of programs takes time so parents need to make their displeasure well known.   If they don’t want to phone, every school district administrator has an e-mail address these days.  How long does it take to send an e-mail to administrators and board members?   If they all get 20 or 30 e-mails, they are bound to pay some attention.  These parents are the voters in their district.

Some advisers have set up formal parent groups that not only support the program when it is threatened, but provide other support even down to goodies on layout nights.   Even after their children graduate, parents in Vince DeMiero’s group stay active.  He is adviser at Mt. Lake Terrace High School in Washington state and current president of WJEA.   Think about organizing your parents.   Their support could be crucial when your program is under fire either about an issue or even its existence.

Testimonials from former students are also great.   They are voters as well and can tell administrators how working on a publication while they were in high school helped them in college and beyond no matter what career path they chose.

Teachers need to fight to keep J-programs alive, but they don’t have to do it alone.  Work to alert your supporters and then keep the administration and school board informed about their support.   Stress that learning is what schools should be about and J-programs provide unique learning opportunities.

Fern Valentine, MJE

Read More