Ohio students, school district reach settlement in Wooster Blade censorship case

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by fourstudent journalists at Wooster High School against the Wooster Board ofEducation after administrators confiscated the Dec. 20, 2002, edition of thestudent newspaper.

In the Nov. 12 settlement, the Wooster Board ofEducation agreed to pay $5,000 to charities designated by the plaintiffs and$30,000 in legal fees. Funding for the payments will come from the board’sinsurance company.

Ken Myers, a Cleveland attorney who represented thestudents, said the school district will donate $2,500 to the Student Press LawCenter and $2,500 to the Cleveland chapter of the Society of ProfessionalJournalists.

Both parties agreed not to discuss the details of thesettlement

In February, a U.S. District Court judge denied the studentjournalist’s request to prohibit the school district from conducting furtherprior review of the Wooster Blade. However, the judge did recognize thatthe student newspaper had greater protection than that provided by the U.S.Supreme Court in the 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case because the schoolhad opened the publication as a public forum for student expression.

Thelegal battle began when Superintendent David Estrop impounded the entire pressrun of a December issue of the Wooster Blade. He claimed an articleabout students receiving punishment for being caught drinking alcohol contained”potentially defamatory” information.

In the article, the daughter of aschool board member was quoted as saying that she drank alcohol at an off-campusparty and was one of six student-athletes who were disciplined for violating thehigh school athletic department’s code of conduct. District officials say thegirl never admitted to any wrongdoing and was never punished.

The studentjournalists maintained the girl told a Wooster Blade reporter that shehad been drinking at the party; however, the newspaper subsequently acknowledgedit inaccurately reported that she had been punished.

In addition to themonetary settlement, the superintendent agreed that he would attempt to meetwith the editor and adviser before deciding not to distribute the WoosterBlade in the future .

SPLC View: This case has beena very important one for high school student media. The settlement is good newsfor the Wooster students