Frasca v. Andrews

463 F. Supp. 1043 (E.D.N.Y. 1979)

In 1978, the principal of Sewanhaka Central High School in New York confiscated all copies of the student newspaper, The Chieftain, before they were distributed. Principal Robert Andrews was concerned about a letter, apparently penned by the lacrosse team, which demanded “a formal apology” (“or else we will kick your greasy ass”) from The Chieftain for not printing any sports articles. The newspaper published an editorial response, calling the team “hotheaded, egotistical, ‘Pissed Off’ jocks.” Andrews also objected to an article that criticized a student who was involved with student government. The newspaper called the student “a total disgrace to the school” and also made claims that he had a poor grade point average, among other things. Andrews said the lacrosse letter and editorial were obscene, used “fighting words” and would cause a disruption in the school. The article about the student government member was libelous and in violation of FERPA, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, he said.

Former Editor-in-Chief Renee Frasca and assistant editor Joan Falcetta sued the school district. The court decided in 1979 that the lacrosse letter was not obscene by constitutional standards and that neither party resorted to “fighting words.” Furthermore, the paper’s content was not protected by FERPA. Information in the newspaper might include information found in student records, but FERPA “does not extend to information which is derived from a source independent of school records.”

Read the opinion.