Mich. school board considers adopting NEOLA publications policy

MICHIGAN — The Plymouth-Canton Community Schools Board of Educationpostponed its second reading of an updated publications policy that placeslimits on student free expression, in order to review it further incommittee.

If enacted, this policy would change the entire journalism program, saidMary Lou Nagy, adviser to the student newspaper The P-CEP Perspective.She said students have already considered leaving the paper, for fear theywon’t be allowed to cover certain topics.

The policy under review is an update released by the Northeast OhioLearning Association (NEOLA), a consulting company that sells almost 400pre-written policies, with topics ranging from safety patrol to studentfundraising, to school boards in seven states. NEOLA is the Plymouth-Cantondistrict’s policy consultant.

The update details four policy options — none of which are open publicforums –varying in degrees of restriction. Option 1 employs the mostadministrative oversight and Option 4 grants the students the mostresponsibility.

Option 1 — which labels student publications or productions as nonpublicforums, where they are subject to routine administrative prior review andrestraint — was passed in the first reading of the policy by thePlymouth-Canton Community Schools Board of Education.

Nagy said the newspaper’s current practice as an open forum is veryhands-off. She works with the students directly on content, but there is noadministrative oversight.

Other clauses within the proposed NEOLA policy include limitations onpolitical speech.

“At first, they were going to prohibit political speech, and thenthey pulled back on that to allow [coverage of] outside elections, like nationalelections and so on, but not for school,” said Nagy.

If passed, advertising will also be restricted, and administrators willreview ads to determine if they are appropriate for high school students, Nagysaid.

“It’s difficult, because that’s the only place where weget our money from,” she said. “We are not funded in any otherway.”

Nagy said she is worried that administrators will not have time to reviewnewspaper pages by deadline, because they also have to read content from theyearbook, the radio station and the morning announcements.

If the P-CEP Persepective does not make its deadlines, it couldcause problems with advertisers and the printer.

“It’s just uncharted territory,” she said.

The district’s Director of Student Services, Bob Hayes, did notreturn multiple calls for comment by press time.