Wash. student editors join together to fight district's prior review policy

WASHINGTON — Student editors at three Puyallup School Districthigh schools are pointing to a recent case of censorship as proof they need apublications policy without prior review.

The latest issue of JagWire at Emerald Ridge High School includes anempty space that simply declares, “This story has been censored,”according to a press release from Fight for the Right to Write, agroup formed by student editors at three district high schools whose goal is towork with the school board to create a new student media policy withoutincluding prior review or prior restraint.

The absent story covered the school district getting a favorable juryverdict in a lawsuit in which four students had claimed they had not givenconsent to JagWire to print their names and “privateinformation” in a February 2008 article about oral sex. Last month aPierce County jury ruled that the newspaper had not violated the students’


According to the group’s press release, JagWire reporter AllieRickard decided to withhold her story about the lawsuit from print after it wasprior reviewed by Mike Patterson, an attorney representing the district in thelawsuit. Patterson, an attorney with a Seattle law firm, insisted thatJagwire editors not publish the plaintiffs’ names, change a quotefrom another attorney with Patterson’s law firm, and rewrite anexplanation of the meaning of a limited forum, the press release said.

Patterson was traveling outside of the country and could not be reached forcomment by press time.

The student group e-mailed Superintendent Tony Apostle and school boardmembers about their proposal to work together on a new policy. In an e-mailresponse, obtained from the school district’s Executive Director ofCommunications Karen Hansen, Apostle told the students that the board ofdirectors did not have plans to change its publications policy, but he would bewilling to work with the group on one condition: students and their parentsagree to accept financial responsibility for the student publications.

Rickard, an editor at the JagWire and a member of the studentgroup, said the students are willing to make that agreement if they can returnto an open forum status, which would require a policy without prior review andprior restraint.

Mike Hiestand, a Student Press Law Center attorney who has been workingwith the students, said this latest incident focuses attention on the problemwith the current policy and shows its need to be resolved.

I think [the school district] understood pretty clearly whatthe students’ objections were and why they would be upset about not beingable to report on very public information from a public trial,” hesaid.

Amanda Wyma, also an editor at JagWire and member of the Fight forthe Right to Write group, said a policy without prior review would givereporters “the chance to cover the things that really matter.”

She said since the new policy of prior review was put in place, she hasseen her fellow reporters shy away from covering more difficult topics becausethey think they might be censored. After she graduates in June, reporters atEmerald Ridge won’t know what it is like to cover those issues, Wymasaid.

“When we leave, me and one of my co-editors are the last two who willhave seen an open-forum structure in our newspaper,” she said.

The Fight for the Right to Write group organized a public meeting May 3 toeducate the community about their goal of creating an open forum status fortheir publications. They have also used their website and a Facebook page to rally community support and have askedstudents and community members to sign a petition supporting their idea.

Rickard said they hope to meet with school officials before the school yearends on June 16.

“We want a policy in place by the time school starts next year so allof those starting in student journalism and continuing in journalism have asolid policy to work from,” she said.

Apostle was unable to comment for this article.