Student press protests policy

MARYLAND — After battling censorship of a student television program last year, Blair High School student journalists may face another fight, this time for all student media in the county.Student journalists object to new regulations discovered after school began this fall which state in part that no school-sponsored publication including student newspapers, yearbooks, plays, or television shows may produce content that is “inconsistent with the shared values of our society.”Students believe this restrictive policy change may pave the way for more censorship. They say they are frustrated because school officials deny that any revisions have been made to the publications policy despite clear evidence.Montgomery County Public Schools’ spokesman Brian Porter said, “Some students and people they’re working with, maybe teachers, are very badly misinformed. There have been no changes in policy at all.”When the Report read Porter two different versions of the district’s Student Rights and Responsibility regulations, one from the 1996-97 school year, and one that said it was revised in June of 1997 that contained additional publication restrictions, Porter seemed confused.He suggested that the explanation of the policy may have changed, but the regulations themselves did not.Students are outraged.”The county claimed they were just editing and rewording [the existing publications policy] and avoided having it brought to the public’s attention or commented on by elected public officials,” said Adam Jentleson, a student journalist at Blair’s television studio, WBNC.Blair’s newspaper, Silver Chips, has not been censored concedes Jentleson, but he claims this is part of administration strategy. “The county office is too smart to censor anything yet,” said Jentleson. “If they censor anything, that gives us a peg to hang our whole argument on.”Jentleson said he would not be surprised if content regulations were imposed following a controversy over a student show on WBNC last year.An episode of Shades of Grey, a live show produced by Blair students and broadcast in their community, featuring a same-sex marriage topic, was censored by school administrators in October 1996.Students appealed to the school board, which overruled the superintendent in April and allowed the Shades of Grey episode to air.The board then ordered a panel comprised of school officials, teachers and students to draft a new policy for electronic media that is still being deliberated. A decision on that policy was expected before January.As of November, WBNC was still forbidden from live broadcasting. Worried about the future of student journalists in Montgomery County, Jentleson and other students have formed the Maryland Coalition for a Free Student Press, whose ultimate goal is to pass state legislation to secure stronger press freedoms for high school journalists.”Montgomery County has always been very liberal in terms of its educational policies,” said Jentleson. “If this [publications policy] is enforced, it’s a tremendous shame. It’s scary to think of the prospect of student journalists who will not really know what their rights are.”