Students, school district reach settlement in Wooster Blade censorship case

OHIO —- A settlement was announced today in alawsuit filed by four student journalists at Wooster High School against theWooster Board of Education after administrators confiscated the Dec. 20, 2002,edition of the student newspaper. In the Nov. 12 settlement,the Wooster Board of Education agreed to pay $5,000 to charities designated bythe plaintiffs and $30,000 in legal fees. Funding for the payments will comefrom the board’s insurance policy. Ken Myers, a Cleveland attorneywho represented the students, said the school district will donate $2,500 to theStudent Press Law Center and $2,500 to the Cleveland chapter of the Society ofProfessional Journalists.Both parties agreed not to discuss the detailsof the settlementIn February, a U.S. District Court judge denied thestudent journalist’s request to prohibit the school district fromconducting further prior review of the Wooster Blade. However, the judgedid recognize that the student newspaper had greater protection than provided bythe U.S. Supreme Court in the 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case becausethe school had opened the publication as a public forum for studentexpression. The legal battle began when Superintendent David Estropimpounded the entire press run of a December issue of the Wooster Blade. He claimed an article about students receiving punishment for being caughtdrinking alcohol contained ”potentially defamatory”information.In the article, the daughter of a school board member wasquoted as saying that she drank alcohol at an off-campus party and was one ofsix student-athletes who were disciplined for violating the high school athleticdepartment’s code of conduct. District officials say the girl neveradmitted to any wrongdoing and was never punished. The studentjournalists maintained the girl told a Wooster Blade reporter thatshe had been drinking at the party; however, the newspaper subsequentlyacknowledged it inaccurately reported that she had beenpunished.According to the settlement, Superintendent Estrop, not theboard, prohibited the distribution of the Wooster Blade. Estrop and theboard agreed that prior restraint should only be used as a last resort. In addition, the editors of the Wooster Blade acknowledged thatthe girl in the article was not convicted or punished by the district fordrinking. Both parities agreed that the superintendent would attempt tomeet with the editor and adviser before deciding not to distribute theWooster Blade in the future. The settlement did not statewhether the Wooster Board of Education would revise its student publicationspolicies.

Read a transcript of the settlement proceeding in Draudt v. Wooster City School Board District Board of Education.
Read previous coverage