Mont. school district plans to scrap proposal for restrictive publications policy

MONTANA — Missoula County Public Schools will likely scrap aproposal for a new student publications policy after concerns were voiced overits restrictive wording.

The consensus of a committee of district officials, students, advisers andother interested parties was that the current policy, which allows for greaterstudent editorial control, should remain as it is, Superintendent Alex Apostlesaid.

Apostle created the committee to study the current and proposed policiesafter some criticized the proposal for language that allowed administratorsgreater power to censor material, including material deemed “sociallyinappropriate.” Those opposed argued officials could abuse that power tojustify censorship of something they disagreed with.

The proposed policy also declared that student publications are not publicforums, in contradiction to the suggestion of Clem Work, a University of Montanajournalism professor, who said the district should offer students more freedom,not less.

Work, who was a part of the committee, offered to provide annual trainingthrough the university to the district’s student editors, advisers andprincipals about the rights and responsibilities of student journalists, but hesaid the programs are strong already.

“I personally don’t think there’s a crying need forit,” he said. “The adviser and the students are doing a pretty goodjob of tackling some tough issues in a good, professional journalistic way, andI just don’t think they need that much help or supervision.”

Apostle said the committee will meet again to solidify its recommendation,which will then be passed on to the board’s policy committee andeventually must be approved by the full school board. He hopes to have that doneby the end of August.

“I think things will stay the same, with the addition thatwe’re going to provide more learning experiences [with the University ofMontana],” he said. “So I think it came off really well. I supportthe direction, and I don’t see this going any further.”

The district is in the process of reviewing all of its board policies, andthe district’s attorney, Elizabeth Kaleva, “looked at this policyand made some minor adjustments, and that created quite a few questions,”Apostle said.

Work said he was happy to see the students voice their concerns over theproposed policy.

“The students were very articulate and passionate in theirposition,” he said. “That probably is more telling than anythingelse.”

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said thedecision should serve as a model for other districts that think censorship isthe only way to run a successful journalism program.

“This is the exact, right way to resolve concerns over whetherstudents can be trusted with freedom of the press,” he said.”Instead of threatening or punishing them, why not just offer them bettertraining opportunities?”