High School Censorship In Brief

Suspension for violent, sexually explicit story did not violate student’s rights, court rules

NEW YORK — A U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in September that school officials did not violate a student’s rights when he was suspended for writing a violent and sexually explicit story using the names of his classmates.

Dylan Finkle, 13, wrote a three-chapter story titled “Costume Party,” which chronicled a student who kills several of his classmates and depicts others in violent sexual situations. Finkle read the story aloud to classmates, which prompted one teacher to turn him in to the principal.

After the suspension was handed down, Dylan’s father, Andrew Finkle, sued the Syosset Board of Education, superintendent Carole Hankin and Thompson Middle School principal James Kassebaum for violating his son’s First Amendment rights.

The court ruled in favor of the school, saying, “Speech that constitutes a true threat of violence, by being a serious expression of an intent to cause present or future harm,’ may be prohibited.”

The Finkles have appealed the decision, according to a secretary in Christopher Murray’s office, who is the Finkle’s lawyer.

Case: D.F. ex rel. Finkle v. Bd. of Ed. of Syosset Cent. Sch. Dist., 386 F.Supp.2d 119 (E.D.N.Y. 2005)

Student editors up in arms over restrictive publications policy

NORTH CAROLINA — Student journalists at First Flight High School’s Nighthawk News are fighting new regulations imposed on their newspaper over the summer.

Superintendent Sue Burgess implemented the new policy, which includes bans on images of students wearing attire that violates the student dress code, content that associates the school with anything other than neutral political stances and advertising or promotion of any product, service or activity unlawful for minors.

Nighthawk staff protested the regulations to the school board and superintendent. As a result, it was decided that the lawyer who wrote the policy in question would rewrite the regulations.

Robin Sawyer, Nighthawk News’ adviser, said in an e-mail she is unhappy with the rewritten policy, which still gives the principal of the school ultimate authority over newspaper content.

The new proposal raises the same legal questions as the old one, said Adam Goldstein, a legal fellow at the Student Press Law Center.

“It also appears motivated by a dislike of the newspaper’s content,” he said.

Principal halts publication over prior review statement

WASHINGTON — Editors and the principal of Everett High School reached a stalemate in October over publication of the student newspaper.

Claire Lueneberg, an editor at the Kodak, said the school’s new principal, Catherine Matthews, will not allow the paper to be printed until the staff removes an editorial statement that says students control the newspaper’s content.

Removing the statement would give Matthews the authority to review all material before it is published, Lueneberg said. The paper had been publishing the statement since last spring.

In the Herald, an Everett, Wash. newspaper, Matthews said she is enforcing a seven-year-old school board policy that allows, but does not require, principals to practice prior review.

Lueneberg and co-editor Sara Eccleston asked the superintendent and school board in a meeting in November to grant permission for them to publish as a student forum with the editorial statement. The board denied their requests, Lueneberg said. The editors said they are not sure what their next step is, but Lueneberg said they do not plan to remove the statement.

School board debates policy on administrative prior review for media

OHIO — School officials in Canton are debating their policy of administrative review for the district’s high school publications.

Principals at McKinley and Timken High Schools currently have the final say on what goes into their schools’ newspapers and yearbooks, but that may change.

Rick Senften, an editor for The Repository, a Canton newspaper, said school officials admitted the policy needed to be changed. Senften, who has worked with high school journalism programs in Ohio for the last 15 years, said he was asked to help draft a new policy.

Senften said the board would not support a policy that denied school officials any review privilege, but the proposed policy does give students ultimate content control. Under the proposed policy, if a principal reviews the paper and has objections to content, a meeting with the staff must be held in which the administrator lays out his or her concerns over the material in question. The staff can elect to publish the material despite administrative concerns, but in doing so they assume all liability.

Senften said it appears likely the school board will adopt the new policy, possibly as early as December.

Yearbook portrait policy changed; principal still has final say on photos

FLORIDA — The Clay County School Board agreed in September to change its portrait policy for high school seniors after reaching an out-of-court settlement with a former student.

Kelli Davis’ senior photo was removed by school administrators from Fleming Island High School’s yearbook last year when she chose to wear a tuxedo instead of the traditional drape required for female students.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a complaint on Davis’ behalf in May 2005 threatening legal action if the policy was not amended.

School board officials agreed to change the portrait policy.

Unfortunately for the yearbook staff, the settlement does not contain provisions preventing administrators from having the final say on what photos are appropriate. The Settlement says, “The principal may establish dress codes for senior portraits,” but must grant “reasonable requests” for exceptions — meaning the decision of what photos appear in the yearbook remains in the principal’s hands.

School rejects parents $1.5 million claim over ‘unauthorized photos

CALIFORNIA — The San Dieguito Union High School District has rejected a $1.5 million claim filed by the parents of a 16-year-old girl who posed in her underwear for photos in a high school literary magazine.

The claim sought damages for “defamation, invasion of privacy, inadequate supervision, sexual harassment and related damages all stemming from unauthorized nude photographs” appearing in Torrey Pines High School’s Dialogue Spring 2005 First Flight.

The parents’ attorney, Daniel Gilleon, told The San Diego Union-Tribune that they plan to proceed with a lawsuit against the school district.

The pictures feature the girl in question, Monterey Salka, and two other students posing in their underwear or wearing flesh-colored tank tops. No genitals or breasts appear in the images. In two images, Monterey Salka appears to be topless, but her hair is covering her breasts.

Gilleon said Salka, who has done professional modeling in the past, regrets posing for the photos.

The claim stated that at no point were Salka or her parents asked to provide consent for the pictures’ publication.

The Salkas also contend they would not have given consent to publish the photos.

Dan Shinoff, the school district’s lawyer, said the entire claim is baseless.

“I think these youngsters knowingly participated in this issue,” he said. “She’s a model. She’s all over the Internet. For someone who seeks notoriety for her own image this is very interesting.”

Superintendent Peggy Lynch said that despite the claim she did not anticipate any changes in how the district handles student publications.

Student files lawsuit to clear disciplinary record

GEORGIA — A student suspended for writing a journal entry school officials deemed threatening filed a lawsuit in October asking for her disciplinary record to be cleared.

Rachel Boim, then 14 and a student at Roswell High School, was expelled in October 2003 for a year after her art teacher confiscated her private journal when she passed it to a classmate. The school district later reduced Boim’s punishment to a 10-day suspension that remains on her record.

Boim’s attorney Don Keenan said Boim, now 16, will be applying to college soon and is worried about having to put the suspension on her applications.

The journal entry in question describes a girl who falls asleep in class and dreams of shooting her math teacher. The math teacher was not named.

Boim was suspended for violating the student code of conduct, which prohibits students from making threats against the school, Mitzi Edge, a Fulton schools spokeswoman, has said.

The suit seeks only $1 in damages, Keenan said, because the Boims want to make it clear that the suit is not about money — just clearing their daughter’s record.

Principal seizes paper over column on birth control, tattoo article

TENNESSEE — A high school principal seized all 1,800 copies of a student newspaper in November over objections to a column about birth control and an article on body art.

Oak Ridge High School Principal Becky Ervin objected to a column intended to inform students who were sexually active about birth control measures available to them, said Oak Leaf Editor in Chief Brittany Thomas. The column quoted a local health center physician as saying that teenagers do not need parental consent in Tennessee to obtain birth control information.

Ervin had no problem with an accompanying column encouraging abstinence, Thomas said, adding that Oak Ridge’s sex education program is abstinence only.

The principal also had qualms with an article featuring photos of students showing their tattoos and body piercings, Thomas said.

Superintendent Thomas Bailey declined to comment on the situation beyond a press release, but he did tell The Knoxville News-Sentinel that the article featured a photo of an unnamed student baring a tattoo that her parents did not know about, which concerned administrators.

The Oak Leaf published without the article on birth control and without the names of the students pictured in the tattoo feature in order to get the paper out, Thomas said.

But the students are not giving up.

“I think we need the same rights as everyone else,” Thomas said. “We’ve always been responsible — this wouldn’t have been a big deal if it had been released as we intended.”

Thomas said that students and community members voiced their opinions on the matter at a school board meeting and that the majority of the speakers condemned the censorship.

Study finds Web filters block legitimate content

Legitimate content often is blocked by school and library Internet filters when students are conducting research, according to a new study by a university librarian.

Lynn Sutton, director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University, found that many school and library filters were overzealous in their attempts to protect students from inappropriate online content. She presented her study, “Experiences of High School Students Conducting Term Paper Research Using Filtered Internet Access,” Oct. 8 at the American Association of School Librarians conference in Pittsburgh.

Sutton interviewed two English classes at a Michigan high school, one advanced rhetoric and one basic composition, both of which had been assigned term papers to be researched on school library computers. She said almost all of the students interviewed experienced some kind of problem with legitimate sites being filtered.