Mo. school district considers free-speech policy for student journalists

MISSOURI — The Clayton School District board of educationlast week reviewed a student publications policy that supportsstudent freedom of expression on a level that is almost unrivallednationally.

"The Board of Education encourages student productionand distribution of official school-sponsored publications thatcan provide opportunities for practical journalistic expressionfor the written expression of differing opinions, and for thecreation of a forum for the expression of opinions among the schooldistrict community on issues of importance to students and staff,"the policy reads.

"Because Clayton High School student journalists historicallyhave exercised their powers and skills in a responsible, respectfuland appropriate manner, the board encourages the administrationto allow its student journalists to function with minimal oversightconsistent with the trust and respect that its student journalistshave earned," according to the policy.

Clayton’s policy is especially notable since it opposes thepolicy at another St. Louis County school district — Hazelwood– that set a nationwide standard for restrictive student publicationspolicies after the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in HazelwoodSchool District v. Kuhlmeier.

"We are very proud of the work the administrators andstudents did on this proposal," Clayton journalism adviserNancy Freeman said.

On April 10, the board had its first reading of the proposedpolicy, Superintendent Don Senti said. The board made only minoradjustments to the proposal and is allowing 60 days for publiccomment before its final vote on June 12.

Senti said he was surprised by the level of attention localmedia have given to the policy, since he said it only formalizeswhat the district has practiced for some time.

"We are simply involving the students in drafting a policythat reflects our long-term practice at [Clayton High School],"Senti said.

If adopted in June, Clayton’s policy would apply to all highschool media, including the Globe student paper, the WORKSliterary magazine, the television station and yearbook. Studentpublications at the district’s middle and elementary schools willstill receive a higher level of supervision.

Only six states — Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansasand Massachusetts — have adopted laws to restore student journalists’freedom of expression rights to the level widely enjoyed beforethe Hazelwood decision. Two other states, Pennsylvaniaand Washington, have regulations protecting student rights.