Ore. school board decides not to change school publication policy after parents call for greater oversight

OREGON — Student journalists at Lakeridge High School inLake Oswego, Ore., will not see much of a change to their publications codeafter the school board rejected pleas from parents to place greater restrictionson the student publication.

The Lake Oswego School Board decided at its June 8 meeting to make onlyminor changes to the publications policy. The board’s only move was to addthe terms “incite” and “clear and present danger” to theexisting policy.

Earlier this year parents called for greater control over studentpublications after an article angered some members of a junior high anti-drugparent group. The article — which ran in the January issue of theNewspacer, Lakeridge’s student newspaper — includedinterviews with students who used psychedelic drugs.

“We’re very satisfied with the way that the school boardrecommended these changes,” said the paper’s opinions Editor MaxHeninger, who will be taking over as editor next year. “Initially, whatsome of the parents were demanding seemed pretty extreme.”

The Waluga Parent Teacher Organization asked the school board to imposeseveral changes to the policy, including naming Principal Mike Lehman aspublisher and Newspacer Adviser Erin Simonsen as editor-in-chief.

“I was personally a little concerned with some of the proposed rolesand responsibilities that it appeared some people wanted me to play in thatprocess,” Lehman said. “I have high confidence not only in ourstudent editors, but also our teacher and adviser Erin Simonsen.”

Lehman added he is “one of the biggest fans of our studentwriters” and is usually “one of the first to read theNewspacer when it comes out.”

Justin Berman, who was editor of the Newspacer until graduatingrecently, said the board saw the need for students to be in control of thepublication.

“The school board was on our side in that those two individualsdidn’t have a place on the newspaper staff, but more as mentors in thejournalism curriculum at Lakeridge,” Berman said.

Ultimately, the school board opted to side with the students by updatingtheir code to match Oregon’s free-expression law.

“I think it’s where it should be,” said Deborah Lopardo,school board chair. “We have a responsibility to make sure it’s inthe legal framework and that has been checked as much as you can on journalismpolicy.”

Lopardo noted none of the board members had, in their tenure, seen anyproblems with the journalism program at Lakeridge — a factor that led toupholding students’ free expression rights. Even when angry parents andthe school board became involved, Lopardo said the student journalistsmaintained their professionalism.

“The students from Lakeridge were absolutely amazing at how well theyhandled themselves,” she said. “I felt very strongly weshouldn’t limit the students any more than we had to for commonsense.”

Lehman agreed, noting that he never worries about the Newspacer

staff’s decisions.

“I’ve been a principal for almost 20 years. and I don’tthink I’ve ever had higher confidence level in the students who areinvolved in the publication,” he said.

Heninger said the process has helped the staff appreciate their rights asjournalists and understand that reporting on controversial issues is the core ofjournalism.

“It was a victory for the newspaper because we were able torespectfully defend our rights as journalists,” Heninger said. “Andit was also a victory for the First Amendment because it was protected andupheld even though at times it was uncomfortable.”

For More Information:

  • PTO asks school board to change student publications policy News Flash, 3/10/2009