Legal requests from high schools reach record high at SPLC in '96

VIRGINIA — The Student Press Law Center reported in August that the number of high school student journalists seeking legal assistance hit another all-time high last year. According to the Center, 605 high school student journalists or their advisers contacted them in 1996 for legal help. The previous high was 542, recorded during 1995. Once again, questions about censorship topped the list of high school concerns (37 percent), followed by questions about libel/privacy law (30 percent) and copyright law (18 percent).Requests for legal help from college student media were down slightly, from 806 in 1995 to 771 last year. Questions regarding public access to records and meetings (31 percent), censorship (30 percent) and libel/privacy law (18 percent) were most on the mind of the college media.Overall, the SPLC staff responded to 1,443 requests from student journalists and advisers seeking legal help in 1996, up about 2 percent from the 1,409 legal questions received in 1995.Legal assistance ranged from providing information over the telephone to drafting opinion letters to making referrals to local attorneys who are members of the Student Press Law Center’s pro bono Attorney Referral Network.The Center received an additional 413 questions from individuals seeking information only or from the media seeking comment on student press issues.Calls to the Student Press Law Center came from forty-nine states, the District of Columbia and three foreign countries. Callers from California (173 calls), New York (125), Texas (115), Illinois (88), Florida (72), Virginia (72), Ohio (66), Massachusetts (64), Washington State (63) and Michigan (58) topped the list. Wyoming reported no calls.Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only national legal assistance agency and information clearinghouse devoted exclusively to protecting and educating the student press about their freedom of expression and freedom of information rights. The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All legal services are provided to the student media free of charge.