OREGON — Student journalists at Lakeridge High School in LakeOswego, Ore., are facing calls for greater school control over their newspaper’scontent.
After an opinion article about psychedelic drugs appeared in the Januaryedition of the Newspacer, the student newspaper at Lakeridge, parents ofa local middle school became concerned with the content of the publication. TheWaluga Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) brought the issue to the school boardlast month and suggested new structures and policies for theNewspacer.
“What they brought to the school board was that they felt he [the author]was inciting other students to use the drugs,” said Justin Berman,editor-in-chief of the Newspacer, “when his intention really was to justre-identify those certain drugs are used by students at Lakeridge and why theyare used.”
The PTO suggested several new structures at last month’s school boardmeeting, including naming Principal Mike Lehman as the publisher and newspaperadviser Erin Simonsen as editor-in-chief. Berman said they also suggested a24-hour prior review policy, giving “complete veto power over any articles thatare in the paper” to the principal.
Berman encouraged the school board to “adopt the Oregon state law as theirpolicy.”
The current state law gives students editorial control over theirpublications, although they must refrain from printing material that “incitesstudents as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawfulacts, the violation of school policies, or the material and substantialdisruption of the orderly operation of the school.”
According to Simonsen, the school board had issues with words “incite” and”clear and present danger” in the Oregon law, and her students asked the StudentPress Law Center to provide them with a definition to present to the schoolboard.
Linda Brown, a member of the school board, said she does not anticipate theboard making any serious change to the current policy.
“There is no prior review policy currently in place, and my preference isnot to have a prior review policy,” Brown said. “Just as with any other class,we rely on the good judgment of the teacher.”
The current district policy states that “the use of obscenities, threats ofharm to persons or property, or any other expression which might result in thesubstantial disruption of or interference with the educational program or schoolactivities is prohibited.”
The policy also states that “materials” sponsored by the school, whichinclude the newspaper, are “subject to review and approval by school authoritiesin accordance with district regulations.”
Brown said it would be a few weeks before a decision will be made onrevising the current policy.
Lehman said he supports the work Simonsen and her students have beenproducing.
“Given the quality and competence of our Lakeridge adviser and thecommitment of our student reporters and editorial staff to reach the highestlevels of excellence in journalism, I believe that our Newspacer is agreat example of how free expression in school newspapers canenhancethe teaching and learning process,” Lehman said.
Simonsen said that Lehman never asked to review the newspaper even beforeOregon adopted its student free-expression law, which took effect in 2007. Shesaid her role as the adviser is to read stories and “decide whether or not itfollows the law … you can see me as a teammate, not a censor.”
She said the staff is “pretty upset” about the situation.
“It seemed obvious to them that some of these people hadn’t read alot of our issues,” she said. “The criticism they felt was unfair.”
Berman said he discourages the idea of prior review, and he believes theboard will adopt the state law as policy without making drastic changes to thecurrent structure.
“I think that what the parents are asking for, they don’t want tocall it censorship, but I do believe that what they are asking for iscensorship,” Berman said.
Simonsen said she is not certain what the school board will decide.
“You can’t tell where they are going to go with it,” she said. “This is aconcerned group of parents that is putting this through. It is not coming fromthe school board from what I can see. It’s not coming from the principal andit’s not coming from me as the adviser.”
By Jaclyn Hirsch, SPLC staff writer