Student plaintiffs file notice of appeal in case against Puyallup School District

WASHINGTON — Four former Emerald Ridge High School studentsfiled a notice of appeal this week after losing their lawsuit last month againstthe Puyallup School District and the school’s student newspaper, the JagWire.

The students said in their lawsuit that a 2008 article in theJagWire about students’ sexual practices and histories was aviolation of their privacy. A Pierce County jury found in April that thenewspaper had not violated their privacy.

John Connelly, of Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma, Wash., the attorneyrepresenting the student plaintiffs, said he believes they have a solid basisfor an appeal in that, among other things, the JagWire was not a publicforum as the school district had argued in the trial.

The public forum status of the JagWire is based on how much controlthe school exercised on the content of the paper, said Mike Hiestand, a StudentPress Law Center attorney. If the students were the ones making the decisions,the school district could argue that administrators did not control content andtherefore were not responsible or liable for it.

Mike Patterson, a Seattle attorney who represents the Puyallup SchoolDistrict in the trial, said the judge ruled the JagWire was a limitedpublic forum by practice, which meant the students were in control of thecontent.

“I feel very good,” Patterson said. “I don’t thinkthey have a legitimate ground for appeal, either factually orlegally.”

After the lawsuit was filed, the school district created a policy thatincludes prior review, which Connelly said was a victory for the studentplaintiffs.

The students said in their lawsuit that they had not given consent to theJagWire to print their names and “private details,” a claimthe jury rejected. The issue that originated the lawsuit was printed in February2008, and included information about named students’ sexual experiences,including intercourse and oral sex.

Patterson said it could be about two years before a decision is made on theappeal.