Is the Board Going to Censor Student Newspapers?

Update:  Here's some other coverage from the MyBallard blog, complete with the current policy and proposed policy.  It's a fairly shocking difference that would effectively mute student voices.  

The district's statement about why this is okay is classic doublespeak.

Read the whole thing here.

From KUOW this morning, a story about our high school student newspapers.  It seems that the Board is considering changing Board policy about what can be published.

But the new policy would say students can't publish anything "disruptive" or "inappropriate." And that determination is left up to the principal.

Hiestand: "The minute that you open the door and say that a principal has that authority, as a plaintiff's attorney, you know, I start to salivate."

Because, he says, that ties the student newspaper to the school district. And a plaintiff could argue the district is responsible for content.

The board member who chairs the committee overseeing the changes is Harium Martin–Morris. He admits the policy change appears to be a departure from the argument the district made in court. He declined to talk about it on tape. But he says the board and the district will likely change the Rights and Responsibilities document it gives to students every year. Right now, that document simply says students have freedom of the press.

The Seattle School Board is scheduled to consider this policy change, and hundreds of others, on November 16  December 7th.

One man's "inappropriate" is another man's freedom of speech.  Just as the Board is now allowing principals to decide what is and isn't an excused vacation, now principals will rule - not the advising teacher - on what can be printed.  I absolutely believe there should be adult oversight (and, in fact, sometimes it is quite lacking in cases particularly around yearbooks) but I don't support this policy change.

Yup and this is why we have been saying here that parents should pay attention to these rapidly changing policies.


Anonymous said…
This is the quote that stuck with me when I heard the broadcast:

Hiestand: "The minute that you open the door and say that a principal has that authority, as a plaintiff's attorney, you know, I start to salivate."

Why would the District be putting themselves in this position? The context is that with the Roosevelt incident with Sisley, the school was off the hook since it was student generated. Once it is policy that the school has oversight, they can be sued much more easily.

KUOW listener
Anonymous said…
Litigation Savvy said:

This is on par with Harium's D Average to Graduate. The man cares but the man doesn't THINK.
Jet City mom said…
I didn't listen to the broadcast, was there a certain incident/school that prompted this response?

It reminds me of my older daughters college newspaper.
Most colleges have links to the newspaper on the school website.
Not Reed.
anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
anonymous said…
I see both sides of this issue. I have read what I consider to be some hugely inappropriate things in my kids high school newspaper (very negative article about a specific teacher and her style of communication, lengthy article in favor of legalizing pot, etc). I think more staff oversight and some basic rules/guidelines are more than appropriate, however I acknowledge that there is a fine line between oversight/rules/guidelines and freedom of speech. Where that line is drawn can be quite controversial.

Anonymous said…
One word: Dolt.


WV has another suggestion: "osses"
Christina said…
Listening to KUOW's Weekday this a.m., I heard Eli Sanders of The Stranger strongly disapprove of Martin-Morris's policy statement about placing censor authority of student newspapers with the principal. If this statement had ocme out prior to the endorsements, The Stranger would not have gone with Martin-Morris.
cascade said…
This is coming from the same HQ that tried to deny access to press conferences to Melissa because she is "just a blogger."

It is no surprise that Harium would promote this policy. Remember how he shut down his own blog? Wouldn't want to make a controversial peep. His business backers might not like it.

Wonder if the policy change was his idea or the staff's. In any case it is wrongheaded. This district simply does not (cannot?) value open communications, apparently at any level.
Anonymous said…
Shortsighted, not to mention old-school.

It's not like the kids don't blog and tweet and facebook everything anyway.

dj said…
It is really too bad, because high school is a great opportunity for students -- with faculty guidance -- to learn about freedom of expression and the responsibilities/consequences that come with it. Those pedagogical goals are not consistent with administrative censorship.
dan dempsey said…
WOW censorship. No question that certain rights do disappear in prison and in high school.

How about this.... instead of censorship.

Since appointments work for the US Military academies and they are prestigious institutions, lets have Seattle High School Newspaper editors appointed.

Appointed by say the WA State Representative for the District in which the High School is located.

Quick contact Rueven Carlyle for input on this. He endorsed Peter Maier so he might have an opinion.

It has been hinted that School Board members should be appointed. Let us see how it goes with Newspaper editors first.
Charlie Mas said…
Rather than an example of the Board's "professionalism" this is, instead, yet another example of the Board's cognitive dissonance. They have a remarkable talent for holding two contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time.

They deny any liability for the contents of student newspapers and brag about how the kids have freedom of the press on one day, and then censor the papers and brag about how responsible and accountable they are on the next day.

This isn't just called cognitive dissonance. It's also called duplicity.
I have an important correction! Teresa Wippel tells me the Board is scheduled to consider and possibly act on this change on December 7.

(Not November 16, as I originally reported.)

Thank you for sharing and discussing this story.
Christina said…
Washington Administrative Code: Student Rights

Citation: WAC 392-40-215

August 1, 1977


In addition to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states can provide additional free speech protection their own citizens by enacting state laws or regulations. The Washington Administrative Code's section on Student Rights is such a provision and may provide students attending Washington public high schools with added protection against administrative censorship.

What does the Board do inbetween meetings? Go to a law library to read the Washington Administrative Code and make notes on which ones to subvert or overrule?

Prof. Wagstaff in "Horse Feathers", right before the stirring anthem "I'm Against It": "I think the trustees know what they can do with their suggestions."
SP said…
Another important notice:
The Board has a Worksession next week, "Students' Rights & Responsibilities"
Wed. Nov. 9th 4:00pm-5:30pm

This would be a good opportunity to email Board members before this meeting, if you have any input or opinions.

Also, I tried to look at the Ballard High School's newspaper but couldn't find a link on the school's website. Is this just a coincidence or was it removed? I would think that the student editors would also like to know about this Board worksession.
Anonymous said…
This is from ACLU of Washington's "Know Your Rights- A Guide for Public School Students in Washington" (

"Your right to control the content of newspapers distributed at school depends on whether the newspaper is school-sponsored.
School Sponsored Newspapers: In a case from 1988 called Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the U.S. Supreme Court explained that if a newspaper bears the school's name, uses significant school resources to be published, or is designed by the school to be a learning experience and has a faculty advisor, it is "school- sponsored."
The school is considered the publisher of school-sponsored materials and has the final say over what can and cannot be published, subject to two limits.

First, a decision to remove material from a school-sponsored publication must be related to some valid educational purpose. An article cannot be removed from the publication simply because the principal disagrees with the viewpoints it expresses. The same is true for student expression in other school-sponsored activities, like school plays, concerts, or murals.

Second, if your school has made a formal decision to operate the paper as an open forum for all student views, then the school gives up its control over the content of the newspaper. Ask your journalism advisor if your school paper has been designated an open forum."

...know your rights
M. said…
Here is the Ballard High School website:

M. said…
Interesting enough a year before the supreme court ruled on Hazelwood in 1988 and came up with the reasoning for censoring students if the school had a "reasonable pedagogical concern"; they ruled in 1987 limiting prison inmates rights if the state had a "reasonable penological concern." Notice the transfer from prison inmates to high school students in the court's language. No wonder so many kids feel like school is prison.
I guess for some who wish to limit student voice, King George had every right to censor the colonists publications, right? I mean, England controlled the colonies. Free speech is the bedrock of this country.
SP said…
M- Thanks for the link to the Ballard HS newspaper website.

It's interesting that it is a separate website, and prominently displays the notice, "The Talisman is an open public forum for student expression."

Apparently, this is an important distinction according to the ACLU booklet (see link given earlier), which limits the school's control over what the paper can/cannot publish.

"Second, if your school has made a formal decision to operate the paper as an open forum for all student views, then the school gives up its control over the content of the newspaper. Ask your journalism advisor if your school paper has been designated an open forum."
Christina said…
Brian M. Rosenthal's Seattle Times news article on this topic is published.

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