Michigan court releases written opinion in Utica High School censorship case

Student journalists “must be allowed to publish viewpoints contrary to those of state authorities without intervention or censorship by the authorities themselves,” U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled in Dean v. Utica Community Schools. Tarnow’s written opinion was released Nov. 17.

The opinion affirms Tarnow’s Oct. 12 bench ruling, in which he called Utica school officials’ censorship of Katy Dean’s 2002 story in the Utica High School Arrow “indefensible.”

Dean’s story was about a lawsuit filed against Utica Community Schools by Utica residents Rey and Joanne Frances. The Frances’ maintained that diesel exhaust from a school bus garage, owned by the district and located near their home, exacerbated Rey’s lung cancer.

In his Nov. 17 decision, Tarnow wrote that the Arrow constitutes a limited public forum, which means that restrictive standards established by the Supreme Court in its 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision do not apply.

Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, called the Utica case “the most important student-newspaper censorship case since Hazelwood” and said Tarnow’s ruling is a clear victory for high school journalists.

Utica school district officials said that they did not plan to appeal the ruling.

SPLC View: As we said last month when the judge issued his oral decision, this is the case high school student media have hoped for almost 17 years. We urge all high school advisers to take the time to read the written opinion (available at the link below) and to share it with their students. It is inspiring – at a time when such inspiration is sorely needed.