Calif. AG limits media access to schools, drops parental prior consent requirement

CALIFORNIA — School administrators can place reasonable restrictions on the access rights of off-campus media to public schools, according to an opinion released by the state attorney general’s office in June.”We conclude that reasonable restrictions can be placed on members of the news media when they seek access to school grounds,” wrote Daniel Lungren, attorney general and Maxine Cutler, deputy attorney general. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 95-509 (June 10, 1996).Their opinion states that school administrators may require media members to register on campus and meet set conditions for student interviews. It also sets possible limitations that can be placed on the media when observing school events and the curriculum being taught.”School officials may deny access to members of the news media, as they may deny access to anyone, if their presence would interfere with the peaceful conduct of the activities of the school,” the opinion states.Steve O’Donoghue, journalism adviser at Freemont High School in Oakland, said the opinion was unnecessary but added that problems with television media could result. “The media comes to campuses for two reasons,” said O’Donoghue. “When something good happens and they want to document it and when something bad happens.”A proposed parental permission requirement for the media to interview a student was rejected in the opinion, stating it would infringe on the rights of the media and the students.”School administrators may not require written parental permission before allowing members of the news media to interview students,” states the opinion. “Requiring parental permission … would constitute … an impermissible prior restraint.”O’Donoghue said many school administrators were not good at public relations, in turn, making them look like they had something to hide at their school.”I think that controlling media anywhere, at any time, is a disservice to the public and the students,” he said. “If you are doing your job, what’s the problem with someone walking in your room? If you are not doing your job….”The opinion would require each governing body of a school district to adopt rules and regulations with reasonable provisions for conducting activities involving expressions of freedom of speech and of the press.Students’ First Amendment rights are not affected by the provisions set forth in the opinion. Students will continue to enjoy their freedom of speech and will be allowed to hold rallies, demonstrations and other such acts, the opinion states.The opinion was released after the attorney general was given written opinions on the matter from the Student Press Law Center, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and California media organizations.