Thursday, May 03, 2007

Board upholds Vashon censorship

Alas, if only we could reach the school boards that often make final decisions in censorship cases.

In another blow for student journalists, the Vashon Island School Board upheld the censorship of an article that was to run in the Vashon Island High School student publication, The Riptide. Apparently, the board operated under the (well-documented) misguided assumption that the school owns the publication, according to the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber:

As (VHS Principal Susan) Hanson had explained earlier, the school district owns the paper and is liable for what appears there, so it has the right to control it, (board member Gene) Lipitz said.

Unfortunately, this overly simplistic view of the situation ignores that The Riptide appears to have operated in practice as an open public forum, a situation that should have trumped the censorship under the Hazelwood case, since, by the board's own admission, there is no clear publications policy in place in the Vashon Island School District.

For his part, adviser Greg McElroy disgrees with the board's decision, for obvious reasons.

Greg McElroy, a faculty member who advises the staff of the Riptide, said on Sunday that since the student paper is owned by a government agency, he thinks it inherently has no power, as the federal and state governments do not, to censor. He added that he recognizes that the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise; he says he just disagrees with the court’s decision.

He also indicated that there are five states that now have freedom of the press laws that apply to students and that Washington would have had one if a bill enacting student press rights had passed the Legislature this year.

Asked who would assume liability if a school administration could not censor student newspapers, he said it would be the editors of the paper, who would likely not be sued if they understood and practiced sound journalism.

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