School board upholds First Amendment rights in Tacoma

WASHINGTON — The student newspaper at Sumner High School in Tacoma won a First Amendment battle when the school board rejected a proposal to ban family planning advertisements in student publications. The Sumner School Board voted 4-1 on April 2 that students had the right to determine the content of their ads.

According to the Tacoma News Tribune, board member Raul Angulo brought up the proposal after an advertisement from Planned Parenthood appeared in an issue of the student newspaper, Purple Inc. Angulo based his objection on the fact that schools should be promoting abstinence, not procedures like abortion or anything that might encourage sexual activity. The News Tribune noted in an April 1 article that two precedents might lend support to Angulo’s claim of justified content-based censorship: Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier and a 1991 U.S. Court of Appeals case that supported the right of a school district in Nevada to refuse Planned Parenthood ads specifically.

The school board’s decision, however, was largely based on the unwillingness of board members to interfere with the paper. According to the News Tribune, board member Toni Froehling, a lawyer, called the matter “a First Amendment issue” and fellow board member Tina Aguilar warned against micromanaging the newspaper. Board member Tom Knutson also expressed reluctance to censor the paper. Although some board members had reservations about Planned Parenthood as an organization, the 4-1 decision against censoring Purple Inc. was a vote of confidence for the students who retained the responsibility to determine content on their own.

“Ignorance is not bliss,” said Purple Inc. editor April Hennebock — who predictably objected to the proposal — to the News Tribune. “What we don’t know can hurt us.”