Teen sex story sparks publications policy debate

MICHIGAN –School board members and student journalists are debating a high schoolnewspaper’s open forum policy after an article about teen sex waspublished in the local paper.

Student journalists at Lake Shore HighSchool in St. Clair Shores began a face-off with board members last week to tryto protect the student newspaper’s editorial policy that calls the paper”an open forum for student expression” and states the paper will notbe subject to prior review by school administrators.

Andrew Mardis,an editor of the student newspaper, TheShoreline, spoke out against a school board policy at a school boardmeeting last week. The school is proposing extending the policy, which givesultimate control of the student newspaper to the faculty adviser, to Web storiesand advertisements.

Despite the board policy,Shoreline editor Kim Trombley said thepaper has acted as an open forum, according to an article in theMacomb Daily, a localpaper.

The Shoreline‘s editorial practice of declaring the paper an ”open forum forstudent expression” was called into question by Brian Annable, districtsuperintendent, after a teen sex article written by a Lake Shore student waspublished as part of the ”Our Turn” section of theMacomb Daily. The article included asurvey of sexual behavior among teenagers.

Shortly after the articleran, the students on the staff of TheShoreline were told their editorial policy would have to go, even thoughthe article appeared in the local paper, not the student paper.

Thesuperintendent ”came to the classroom and said, ‘your editorialpolicy is in direct conflict with our board policy,”’ Mardissaid.

Annable said the board policy, which he said dates back tobefore 1990, gives the newspaper adviser ultimate authority over content, butthat it leaves room for the students to appeal to the principal if they do notagree with the adviser’s decision.

The board policy states,”As a school-sponsored publication, TheShoreline is not a public forum for general use.”

Thepolicy conflicts with the newspaper’s editorial policy, which, inAnnable’s words, says, ”no matter what the adviser says, we’regoing to publish it.”

The student newspaper’s editorialpolicy states, ”All editorial decisions are made solely by the editorialstaff which consists of several student editors.The Shoreline reserves sole authorityover the contents of this publication and will determine content of thenewspaper and unsigned editorials.” Mardis said the policy was created in2002.

Cheryl Pell, director of the Michigan Interscholastic PressAssociation, said it is fairly common for administrators to try to censorstudent journalists based on the argument that the newspaper’s editorialpolicy is ”inconsistent” with the district’s policy. She saidstudents should be asking administrators, ”Why don’t you make yourpolicy consistent with ours?”

Mardis said his adviser receivedan e-mail in December from an administrator saying that publication of the paperwould be postponed. Mardis said administrators would allow the January issue ofthe newspaper to print only if thestaff removed the statement designating the paper an openforum.

Mardis said Shoreline staff would not publish another issue until they are allowed to call the paper an open forum.

Shoreline faculty adviser Kevin Francis declined to comment for thisstory.

Annable said there have not been any controversial storiespublished in the student paper, but he does not think that a student, for-creditnewspaper should refer to itself as an open forum free fromcensorship.

”It’s part of the curriculum,” Annablesaid. ”It’s got a faculty member. It is there as a practice vehicleto facilitate the education process.”

”That’s justa crazy thing to say,” Pell said. ”All education is practice. But doyou want them to practice the wrong things? Wouldn’t you rather thempractice the right things like the First Amendment?”

Mardissaid he has never felt The Shoreline was a merely a practice paper.

”I view it as a realnewspaper,” he said.

Student free press advocates speculatewhether the school may have been motivated by the 2004 federal district courtdecision in Dean v. Utica Community School.In that case, the court rejected the school’s censorship of astudent newspaper article after finding the student newspaper was a publicforum.

Annable also said other student media outlets such as theyearbook and video production at Lake Shore do not claim to be open forums, sothe newspaper calling itself an open forum is inconsistent.

InFebruary 2005, Sen. Michael Switalski, D-Roseville, proposed a bill to restorepress rights to high school students in Michigan that were taken away by theU.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood v.Kuhlmeier ruling. Hazelwood gaveadministrators the right to limit student speech in some school-sponsoredstudent media. That bill, Senate Bill 156, is currentlyinactive.

by Emily Walker, SPLC staff writer