Story claims education law can dictate news content

A small section of an article published in the August edition of The American School Board Journal poses a potential threat to high school journalists.The article of concern, entitled “Playing Fair” by Brenda Lichtman, concentrates on Title IX, a 25-year-old law prohibiting federal funding of schools and colleges that discriminate on the basis of gender.In an opinion that many student journalists and free press advocates will contest, the article states that unequal coverage of men’s and women’s sports in a student newspaper is a violation of Title IX.Section c of the law states, “In determining whether equal opportunities are available the Director will consider, among other factors…publicity.”Lichtman, NCAA Title IX coordinator for Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, said she believes this section of the title applies to all aspects of the school’s media, including those produced by students.”This deals with publicity relevant to interviews in terms of coverage by media, promotional services to teams, posters, press guides and schedules,” she said.Lichtman maintains that this requirement could include the number of column inches given to men’s and women’s sports and picture coverage in student publications.SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman disagreed with Lichtman’s analysis and noted that courts have drawn distincitions between the actions of students and those of school employees. But he said students and advisers should be wary that school officials might use this argument as a justification to censor.Lichtman said that student press coverage has not yet been an issue in a Title IX case. Schools first must deal with more prevalent issues such as equal facilities and playing time for men’s and women’s teams.