Washington state student editors sue school district over student media policy, prior review

Two student editors sued the Everett School District Dec. 14, saying the district violated their free speech rights when their school’s principal required them to submit the student newspaper for review before distribution.

“After going through all of the necessary steps at the district level, we felt that we had exhausted all our efforts,” said Everett High School senior Claire Lueneburg, a co-editor of the Kodak, who, along with senior co-editor Sara Eccleston, filed the lawsuit. “We felt that a lawsuit was the next step in this to hopefully get some type of resolution.”

In the lawsuit, which was filed in Snohomish County Superior Court but transferred by the school district to a federal court in Seattle, the co-editors argue that the paper has operated as a “student forum” since at least 1989, and that “by history and practice, the students have made all final decision as to editorial content in the newspaper without prior restraint or review by the Everett School District or any of its agents.”

Lueneburg and Eccleston reached a stalemate with Principal Catherine Matthews in October after Matthews said the Kodak could not be printed with an editorial statement calling the paper a student forum. Matthews also demanded to review the papers before they were distributed.

Mitch Cogdill, the student’s lawyer, said Matthews, who took over as principal in the fall, demanded prior review “immediately” after a story ran in the Kodak which said she was the third choice of students on the hiring committee, suggesting the students’ voice had been ignored.

District Spokeswoman Gay Campbell said “that is absolutely, totally untrue.”

Campbell has said Matthews was merely enforcing a district policy, passed in 1998, when she required prior review of the paper. The students argue that because the policy was never enforced, the newspaper remained a public forum for students, according to an Associate Press article.