School districts fail access test

MISSOURI -- It started out as just another school project, but 15-year-old Lindsay Rhodes soon turned the tables by using her critical thinking class assignment to put local school districts to the test.

And what the Liberty Junior High School freshman learned was that district administrators may need to devote some extra study hall hours to working on their compliance with state open-records laws.

Rhodes wanted to test local school districts to measure their compliance with the Missouri Sunshine Law, which she researched for her project.

Adviser sues school for ending contract

MISSOURI -- A former college newspaper adviser filed a lawsuit in June against Central Missouri State University, alleging her termination was in response to stories covered in the school's newspaper.

Barbara Lach-Smith, who advised the Muleskinner staff for six years, said her contract was not renewed because of stories uncovering unusual stipulations in outgoing university President Ed Elliott's contract, including $620,000 in severance pay, special benefits for Elliott's wife and personal computer services.

James Rynard, Lach-Smith's attorney, said he can prove that the school violated Lach-Smith's civil rights and infringed on students' First Amendment rights.

"We're very confident in our claims," Rynard said.

Court upholds state ban on alcohol advertising in college newspapers

PENNSYLVANIA -- Across the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, free copies of The Pitt News, the school's independent student newspaper, rest in bins waiting to be picked up by the university community.

Just as easily accessible to students are copies of other free, commercial newspapers, which in some places sit right next to stacks of The Pitt News. Anyone walking past has the freedom to choose which paper he or she wants to read.

But businesses in the state do not have the same freedom to select in which paper they want their advertisements to appear, after a June ruling by the U.S.

Officials fire adviser in dispute over content

NEBRASKA -- Good news isn't cheap.

At Peru State College, administrators are accused of doing everything they can, including censoring the student newspaper and firing the adviser, to make sure positive news comes out of the struggling institution.

Controversy struck last November during an investigation by then-editor Kathy Chase into a sexual assault on campus.

Peru State Times adviser Matt Mauch said college President Ben Johnson attempted to prevent Chase from covering the incident.

"They were telling her this is beyond your jurisdiction," Mauch said. "You do not want to write about this; if you write about this you will get on my bad side.

Student wants university to unlock e-mail records

COLORADO -- Officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder claim the school has turned over all the records requested by student Shannon Meadors, but Meadors tells a different story.

She claims the university has been in violation of state open-records laws since April, when she first requested e-mail records from 16 individuals, including state employees and student government officials.

CMA threatens to censure college

MARYLAND -- College Media Advisers sent a formal letter to Mount St. Mary's College President George Houston in June, saying the school has 30 days to make amends with the adviser to the student newspaper, The Mountain Echo.

If the school is unable to reach a resolution within the 30-day time frame, CMA will likely censure the college.

High school student faces criminal libel charges for Web site remarks

UTAH -- A Milford teen spent seven days in a juvenile detention center and was forced to leave the state after being charged with criminal libel for statements he made on his personal Web site.

Ian Lake will face a misdemeanor charge of criminal libel for referring to his principal as "the town drunk," naming girls at his high school as "sluts" and making derogatory remarks about the intelligence of several teachers.

In typical civil libel suits, if an individual is libeled that person can only recover monetary damages from the person who defamed him or her. In the rarely used criminal libel charge, the state can prosecute a person for libel and impose jail time.

Stephen Clark, legal director for the Utah American Civil Liberties Union, and one of the attorneys representing Lake, said the criminal libel statute itself is unconstitutional and therefore the case should be thrown out.

"As far as we can tell the Utah statute ... is facially overbroad because it purports to criminalize perfectly legal constitutionally protected speech," Clark said.

State bills open up athletic associations

The public now has more access to high school athletic associations in Georgia after the state passed a bill requiring those organizations to comply with state open-records laws, and the same thing may happen in Pennsylvania if the state's House of Representatives approves a bill passed by the Senate in June.

Georgia's HB 1308, signed by Gov.