MICHIGAN — Aschool board in St. Clair Shores has passed a new student publicationspolicy that subjects all studentpublications to prior review and prohibits them from taking ”a politicalstand on any issue.”
The Lake Shore Public Schools’ Boardof Education passed the new policy by a 7-0 vote at their final meeting of theschool year Monday night, according to district superintendent Brian Annable.The policy’s passage is the culmination of months of debate between schoolboard members, student journalists, community members and student press freedomadvocates.
The debate began in earnest in January when staff membersat The Shoreline, the student newspaperat Lake Shore High School, voiced their disapproval with Annable’s claimthat their editorial policy, which declared the paper an ”open forum forstudent expression,” conflicted with district policy.
Annablequestioned the policy shortly after a teen sex article, written by a Lake ShoreHigh School student, was published in May 2005 in the local newspaper, The Macomb Daily.
Althoughthe article did not run in the student paper, students atThe Shoreline were told their editorialpolicy would need to be changed to conform to a pre-existing district policy.Annable said the story in the local paper was not what caused him to review thestudent newspaper policy, but said it was the spark of some people’sinterest in the matter.
Andrew Mardis, an editor ofThe Shoreline, told the Student PressLaw Center in February that his adviser received an e-mail in December sayingthe paper’s publication would be postponed until they removed theeditorial policy that claimed it was an ”open forum.” The studentsrefused to publish unless they were able to call the paper an ”openforum.”
Neither Mardis norShoreline adviser Kevin Francis couldbe reached for comment.
Kim Trombley, co-editor of
The Shoreline, also could not bereached for comment, but she toldTheMacomb Daily in January that the paper had considered itself an”open forum” for years.
“The last three or four years thepaper has been operating as an open forum for freedom of expression, but thecurrent administration says our editorial policy, which has already beenestablished as an open forum, conflicts with the board’s policy,” Trombley toldThe Macomb Daily. “We have an openforum at Lake Shore, and now they want to review it.”
In 1988, theU.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision inHazelwoodSchool District v. Kuhlmeier restricting high school students’ freepress rights by allowing certain circumstances under which a high schoolnewspaper may be censored.
In its decision, the Court ruled that ifeither ”by policy or by practice” a student paper has been opened asa forum for student expression, and student editors have control over content,an administrator’s ability to interfere with the newspaper islimited.
Annable, the district superintendent, said
The Shoreline was in fact a”limited public forum” and the district’s policy needed to beclarified to better reflect that.
The new policy, passed Monday,gives ultimate control over student publications to administrators and makes allpublications subject to prior review by advisers.
”The decisionto publish or produce something shall be made by the adviser with appeal to theprincipal and Superintendent,” according to the policy.
Thepolicy also restricts what advertisements student publications may accept,requires that a byline accompany every article and notes among the objectives ofstudent publications to ”promote and encourage school-sponsoredactivities” and ”create a wholesome schoolspirit.”
It also requires all publications to ”complywith the ethics and rules of responsible journalism.”
Annabledefended the new policy, saying administrators are primarily interested inpromoting ”good journalism” among students.
”Peopleuse terms like ‘prior review’ like they use the term
‘censorship,”’ Annable said. ”How can you offer adviceif you haven’t reviewed it?”
Annable said thepolicy’s language prohibiting students from taking ”a politicalstand on any issue” was intended only to apply to political matterspertaining to the school district.
”We need to go back andclarify that,” Annable said.
Gloria Olman, a retired highschool journalism adviser and legislative chair of the Michigan InterscholasticPress Association, has been following the developments with the Lake Shorepublications policy. She said the new policy ”disturbs” her,especially since she said she has been discussing the issue with school boardofficials for months.
Olman said she has provided officials withdocuments explaining the Hazelwood
standard and why she believed TheShoreline ”open forum” policy protected them from mostadministrative control. She said she even spent two hours last week discussingthe matter with Annable.
”All to no avail,” shesaid.
Selectionsfrom the policy:
”Students shall have the right toexpress their views and attitudes on all issues with the proviso that the tenorof the statements shall not encourage disruption of normal educationalprocesses.”
”School publications/productions shall notendorse any candidate for public office or take a political stand on anyissue.”
”Constructive criticism of the school, theDistrict, other institutions, and/or social groups or practices isencouraged.”
”All material to be printed, performed orelectronically produced is subject to review by the advisors. Those who aredenied approval for inclusion of materials in school publications/productionsmay appeal to the Principal or Superintendent whose decision will befinal.”