ACLU sues Mich. school for holding article about residents’ concerns over bus fumes

MICHIGAN — The American Civil Liberties Union ofMichigan filed a lawsuit April 4 on behalf of a Utica High School studentjournalist who was censored last spring for reporting on residents’ claims thatdiesel fumes from idling school busses were causing healthdangers.Katherine Dean, currently a senior and managing editor of theUtica High School Arrow, is claiming in her suit that Utica CommunitySchools and Superintendent Joan Sergent violated her First Amendment rights whenthey withheld her article from the Arrow.The censored article reported on a lawsuitfiled by Shelby Township residents who lived next to the school district’sbus depot. Resident Ray Frances asserted in the suit that exhaust fumes fromidling school buses caused his lung cancer. Dean’s article wassupported by Arrow adviser Gloria Olman, but was held from publicationMarch 7, 2002, by Principal Richard Machesky. The staff appealedMachesky’s decision to the district level, but Sergent upheldit.Michael Steinberg, legal director for the Michigan ACLU, said,“I thought it was an outstanding article, high journalistic standards. Thereason it was censored was not because of her writing or her lack of researchbut rather because it had the potential to embarrass theschool.”Steinberg said he hopes the case will illustrate thatthere are limits on administrators’ ability to censor a school-sponsorednewspaper.He said the primary argument of the case will focus around the1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.“Hazelwood of course said that school administrators maynot censor a school newspaper unless the censorship advances a legitimatepedagogical interest,” Steinberg said. “We don’t believe thatsuch an interest was present here.”Administrators at UticaCommunity Schools have argued that the Arrow is a school-sponsored,curriculum-based publication over which the school can exercise “a greatdeal of control.” Arrow staff members say the paper has a longhistory of freedom from administrative review and censorship.AndrewNicklehoff, who will represent Dean at the request of the ACLU, said the factthat this was the first incidence of administrators taking an “aggressiverole in controlling the content of the paper” is significant to the case.“It certainly calls into question the reasons that were stated bythe administration for removing the article,” he said.Dean saidshe is “ecstatic” that the ACLU has filed the case. “I stillfeel that if an article is newsworthy and truthful then it needs to beprinted,” she said.Dean’s case requests the court issue adeclaratory judgment that her First Amendment rights were violated and aninjunction compelling the school district to publish her article in theArrow with an explanation that the article was previouslyunconstitutionally censored.

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