Students hand out underground paper off campus after school administrators threaten suspension

OHIO — Four months after they were threatened with suspension forhanding out an underground newspaper, the editors of Lockdown finallydistributed a sequel to their controversial first issue — across the streetfrom their high school.

Devin Aeh, the editor of Lockdown, had been trying for monthsto win the right to hand out her publication at Nelsonville-York High Schoolbut decided in February to distribute it across the street from the schoolto avoid a possible suspension.

“I guess I’m glad that we were just getting to pass it out at all,”Aeh said. “That’s the point. It doesn’t really matter that it’s not inschool.”

Aeh said she decided not to hand out the publication at school afterattorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio advised her againstit.

Ray Vasvari, the director of the ACLU of Ohio, said that although hebelieves students do have the right to hand out independent publicationson campus, he was not sure that a court would rule in Aeh’s favor.

Aeh asked the ACLU of Ohio for legal help in October after the principalof Nelsonville-York High School told her she would be suspended if shedistributed another issue of Lockdown at school. The district superintendentsupported the principal and called the first issue of Lockdown, whichcontained student-authored poetry and commentaries on school policies,”offensive” and “inappropriate.”

Ultimately, Aeh decided to hand out the second issue of Lockdown acrossthe street from the school. The publisher of a local newspaper came toshow support for the students, and the distribution was covered by thelocal media.

Aeh said distributing Lockdown across the street was just as effectiveas handing it out on school property. She said school bus drivers, teachersand even a UPS driver stopped by to ask for copies of the publication.She said she plans to publish future issues of Lockdown and willcontinue to hand them out off campus.

Vasvari said he was encouraged by the town’s support for Aeh becauseit reflected the community’s belief in the free-expression rights of students.

“Here’s the publisher of the local newspaper coming to a suburb on amorning in February to watch a high school senior pass out her studentnewspaper, and that’s tremendous to me,” Vasvari said. “There was strongeditorial support for [Aeh] in the local newspapers, and that shows thatthe message percolated through the community. “

Vasvari said Aeh’s struggle may have made people more aware of the lackof rights many students have at school.

“Maybe,” he said, “in a way they never intended, these school officialsended up doing some good.”