Ohio students sue over confiscation, revised article published

OHIO — The December edition of The WoosterBlade will finally see the light of day by direct order of a U.S. districtjudge. The student newspaper is expected to be fully distributed at Wooster HighSchool and throughout the community by Wednesday afternoon, although some keyreporting was left out pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by the studentslast week.Wooster City School District officials confiscated the WoosterHigh School student newspaper last month because they claimed an articlecontained inaccurate and defamatory statements attributed to two students aboutalleged misconduct during a house party. One of those students, the daughter ofa school board member, allegedly told the newspaper that she drank alcohol atthe party and was one of six student-athletes punished for violating theathletic department’s code of conduct. She later retracted ever making thestatement to Blade reporters; therefore the material is potentiallylibelous, said school district’s attorney, David Millstone.On Jan. 9both sides agreed during a session with U.S. District Court Judge Donald C.Nugent to publish the edition if the students eliminate all references to theirtwo classmates. The changes, which will appear as white boxes over eachreference to the identity or statement attributed to the students, were approvedFriday afternoon between Blade adviser Kristi Hiner and Millstone. TheBlade staff also produced a sidebar to explain the situation to theirreaders and reaffirm their belief that their reporting was accurate.Thefour student journalists, all seniors at Wooster High School, filed a motion fora temporary restraining order with the court to force distribution of theBlade. But Judge Nugent sidestepped the motion, saying that factual evidenceneeded to be presented before a decision could be made. Another districtjudge will hear the students’ request for a preliminary injunction during a courtproceeding that will include witness testimony in the next few weeks, said KenMyers, who is representing the students pro bono at the request of The ClevelandProfessional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.Morethan likely, the judge will lump together the request for a temporary injunctionwith a lawsuit the students also filed that day, Myers said. In the lawsuit,Darcie Draudt, Vasanth Ananth, Tim Yaczo and Kendra Oyer claim that the schooldistrict violated their First Amendment rights when officials impounded thepaper on Dec. 19. They are asking the court to instruct the district not toconfiscate the paper in the future because school board bylaws that govern theBlade clearly provide the paper independence from prior review and priorrestraint. In the lawsuit, they say that the bylaws provide the adviserfinal authority to approve all articles before publication. Although Hiner wasnot in town because of a personal matter, she said she gave the high schoolyearbook adviser the authority to approve the article, which hedid.Millstone said the district had the authority to impound the papersto protect the rights of other students, which is stated in school board bylawsfor school-sponsored publications. Neither side is claiming victory withthis week’s distribution of the revised Blade edition. Approximately1,400 copies of the newspaper will be distributed at school with the other 3,100circulated in the community.Meanwhile, school board member Robert Johnsresigned from his position following a closed session on Friday to discuss thestudents’ lawsuit. He said his resignation is in protest of vindictive attitudesof some members over how they treated students, faculty andadministrators.”To voters who elected me, I apologize for resigning, butI have found myself serving on a board with members who I believe saw anopportunity to discredit a member of the high school administration and tried totake advantage of it,” he told The Associated Press. Johns declined to namethose board members.

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