Ind. high school student suspended for hiding ‘f-word’ in newspaper column

INDIANA — A high school senior was suspended andprohibited from participating in his graduation ceremony for hiding a vulgar wordin a student newspaper article. Lawrence Central High Schooladministrators handed down the punishment to Drew LaMar after he used the firstletter of every paragraph in his May 20 column in the Cub Reporter tospell out a message directed at the newspaper adviser, Elizabeth Granger. Schoolofficials said the message, “Fuck Granger,” was not protectedspeech.According to Dennis LaMar, Drew’s father, school administratorssaid they did not notice the message until they overheard a conversation betweenstudents. He said that the suspension was much more severe than punishments thathad been imposed by the school in the past for, what he labeled as, seniorpranks.”They turned a deaf ear to alternative and more appropriatepunishments. This punishment had more of an effect on his family and otherpeople who did nothing,” LaMar said. “The principal considered it a threatagainst the teacher.”LaMar said that in the past, Lawrence Centralstudents had broken into the school as a prank, which constituted a criminalact, but the students still did not receive a punishment as strict as Drew’s.Assistant Principal Mary Ann Burden denied that such a prank had everoccurred.Burden said that the punishment was decided upon by the LaMarsand the school administration. She said she could not compare the severity ofthis punishment with other punishments because the school had never dealt with asimilar situation.”I’ve been to federal court and the use of the’f-word’ is not protected,” Burden said.Under the 1988 U.S. SupremeCourt decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, high schooladministrators can censor many school-sponsored student publications simply byshowing they have a legitimate educational reason for doing so. And inthe 1986 Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser, the Supreme Courtupheld a student’s suspension for giving a speech in a school-sponsored assemblythat contained what administrators found to be lewd and indecentlanguage.Media experts disagree on whether LaMar should be punished bythe school”This is the type of prank that really hurts the serious highschool press advocates from being able to get a reversal down the road forHazelwood,” said Stephen Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State PressAssociation. “I see this as an appropriate reaction to an irresponsible actionby a staff member.”Key said that he did not view Drew’s punishment as aFirst Amendment issue because the “student was not being censored for the typeof article or the content but … for an admitted prank.”LouisIngelhart, professor emeritus of journalism at Indiana’s Ball State University,said the hidden message most likely would not constitute an illegal obscenitybecause it was broken up into the first letters of eachparagraph.”Publishing obscenity is illegal. However, determining whetherit is obscene is not something for a school administrator to determine,” saidIngelhart, a former member of the SPLC board. “You have to go to court to getthat determination.”