Commission works on electronic media policy

MARYLAND — After controversy rocked the Montgomery County School Board during the spring semester, students and administrators have made progress towards a new set of guidelines for the county cable system’s education channel.

A commission of students, teachers, administrators and school system employees who operate the station has sent its recommendation to Associate Superintendent Joseph Villani for further review.

Originally, school administrators refused to allow the airing of the Blair High School student-produced “Shades of Grey” program on October 15, 1996. The show featured a panel discussion on same-sex marriage.

After a battle with the school administration, WBNC executive producer Andrea Stuart eventually won on appeal.

In an April 23 ruling, the board denied that the school district’s cable channel served as “open ‘public forums’ for student or other public expression,” but allowed the student to air the program five times in May since “the discretion of the superintendent and his staff was not exercised appropriately.”

Only five of the eight board members supported the decision.

The board also ordered the rapid development of new guidelines for all future broadcasts and proscribed all live programming until a policy had been approved, prompting students to call the decision a “hollow victory” in The Washington Blade.

By May, the commission had determined new policy recommendations. Stuart said that the commission “set up new standards for content and technical quality.”

The suggested policy says content may not be slanderous or libelous and creates certain guidelines for students to follow when material has a political nature, said Stuart. A section of the policy’s wording is in line with a “human relations” policy the school developed in 1996. That policy was an effort to be more sensitive to the needs of groups such as minorities and homosexuals according to Stuart.

“The school system doesn’t want to take a stance with the television station,” Stuart said. “They really don’t want any programming that isn’t as they say ‘fair’ or ‘equal.'”

According to Jamin Raskin, the lawyer who represented the students, the school district’s policy on print media does not include restrictions regarding political or controversial material. The only speech proscribed is that which is obscene, libelous, encourages illegal activity or threatens to disrupt the school day.