WASHINGTON — A trial began this week after two years ofdispute involving the Puyallup School District and former Emerald Ridge HighSchool students and their parents, after the school’s newspaper printedinformation about the students’ sexual histories.
Four former Emerald Ridge High School students and their parents are suingthe Puyallup School District on multiple claims including include invasion ofprivacy, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Theplaintiffs collectively seek between $16 million and $32 million in damages.
The issue began after a series of articles on the topics of sexualintercourse and oral sex among students was published in the February 2008 issueof Emerald Ridge High School’s newspaper, The JagWire.
The suit claims the four students quoted in the articles did not givepermission to The JagWire to publish their names and “private details” oftheir “sexual lives.”
In a past interview with the Student Press Law Center, Lauren Smith, a member of TheJagWire editorial board, said the staff respected a student’s wish toretract her comments and altered one of the male senior’s quotes before theissue went to print at his request.
The district asserted that the reporters for The JagWire receivedconsent from the four students before publishing their names and quotes.
Attorneys on both sides gave different characterizations on the keytestimony so far.
Attorney Jack Connelly of Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma, Wash.,representing the students and their parents, said the reporter who hadinterviewed the students said she did not receive permission to print theirnames and sexual histories in her testimony on Thursday.
Although the reporter did not receive permission in writing from thestudents, it was clear she had the students’ consent to quote them, saidattorney Michael Patterson of Patterson, Buchanan, Fobes, Leitch & Kalzer,Inc., P.S. of Seattle, Wash., representing the school district.
Patterson referenced the school district’s student publications policyas a part of their defense.
“Witnesses that have testified that the administration, and certainly theprincipal, did not or would not review or stop that publication unless it wasunprotected speech,” Patterson said.
After the publication of the articles and before the suit was filed, thedistrict enacted a policy on Aug.26, 2008, that placed all student publications under prior review. Since then,The JagWire also implemented a policy that requires students’ writtenconsent if they are quoted on what is deemed as a sensitive subject.
“Operating a paper as a limited public forum where student editors aregiven a final say is not a negligent way to operate a newspaper. It’s what everynational journalism education group in the country says is a proper way to run ajournalism program,” said Mike Hiestand, legal consultant for the Student PressLaw Center.
Following these first two days of testimony, the trial is expected to takeabout three weeks due to a 10-day recess in the court calendar.