Maryland advisers react to school district's proposal to control copyright of student work

MARYLAND — A Maryland school board has put on hold the consideration of a policy that would strip students and teachers of the copyright ownership of their own works, a policy journalism advisers in the district said they had concerns over.

The Prince George’s County Public Schools Board of Education voted to consider the policy, but then took it off of this week’s agenda just before The Washington Post wrote about the proposal.

A draft of the policy states that, “Works created by employees and/or students specifically for use by the Prince George’s County Public Schools or a specific school or department within PGCPS, are properties of the Board of Education even if created on the employee’s or student’s time and with use of their materials.”

As of Thursday, the policy was “on hold and under legal review until further notice,” according to an email from Briant Coleman, the district’s director of communications.

“The bill is not intended to exert ownership over students, teachers and employee works created for school use,” Coleman wrote. “The Board pulled the policy because it was overly broad.”

Board members could not be reached for comment.

The draft language had caused concern for some journalism advisers in the district.

Jason Flanagan, the adviser for the online student newspaper at Oxon Hill High School, said if the school asserts ownership of his students’ articles, that could open the gates for censorship.

“I think there should be some type of provision in the language that addresses student media,” Flanagan said. “It can’t give them the tools to go above Tinker, above Hazelwood, if that’s even possible, to dictate editorial content that comes out of schools.”

Samuel Cook, who advises the student newspaper at Crossland High School, said the county has no legal rights to the students’ work, and that the students are too young to sign a contract with the county.

“When it comes to student publications, that’s the students’ work just like any other work they do,” Cook said.

By Sara Tirrito, SPLC staff writer. Contact Tirrito by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext . 124.