Friday, June 29, 2007

Thomas takes 'in loco parentis' to whole new level

In the wake of the Frederick ruling, a number of legal experts are looking at the silver lining in the ruling: That it seems to be narrow and only apply to drug-related speech.

However, some worry that administrators will try to stretch the scope of the ruling, a la Hazelwood.

Jordan Lorence, senior vice president of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative free-speech advocacy group, agreed that the concurring opinion may limit the ruling but fears administrators will ignore that limit.

"The Alito concurrence, joined by Justice Kennedy, recognizes the potential dangers of the majority opinion and seeks to limit it to situations where students advocate illegal drug-use," Lorence said in a statement from his office. "However, school officials will undoubtedly try to expand the reach of the majority's opinion in order to censor student speech that dissents from the official school policy." ...

Francisco Negrón, general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said in a statement that the decision reaffirms "the school's role in regulating messages that are detrimental to student welfare."

"The Court clearly spoke to the health and well-being of our students, not their constitutional rights of free speech," Negrón said in a statement from the association.

Even scarier, however, was the concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas, who says he would do away with the Tinker standard if given the chance.

"I join the Court's opinion because it erodes Tinker's hold in the realm of student speech, even though it does so by adding to the patchwork of exceptions to the Tinker standard," Thomas wrote in his concurrence. "I think the better approach is to dispense with Tinker altogether, and given the opportunity, I would do so."

Thomas went on to say that he believes the framers of the constitution did not intend for the First Amendment to apply in schools, and that parents designate their authority to school officials.

Justice Alito rebuked that assertion -- "it is a dangerous fiction to pretend that parents simply delegate their authority — including their authority to determine what their children may say and hear — to public authorities" -- but that the line of reasoning even exists in any part of the Supreme Court is scary for all those interested in free student speech.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Seattle Times gives half-hearted rebuke of court's 'Bong Hits' decision

Apparently, The Seattle Times can't really decide how it feels about student free expression.

On the heels of the Times' sorry editorial endorsing opposition to House Bill 1307, the publication has now half-heartedly come out against the Supreme Court's decision to rule against Joseph Frederick in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case.

The U.S. Supreme Court needlessly chipped away at First Amendment free-speech guarantees with a ruling elevating a high-school prank to a dangerous promotion of drug use. ... Frederick's sign was ambiguous. Was the 18-year-old supporting drugs or Christianity? The ambiguity matters because it places Frederick's sign within the confines of protected speech.

You can read the entire editorial here, but that's really about as scathing as it gets.

The funny thing is, check out this excerpt from the Times from Jan. 14, 1988 -- the day after the court issued its landmark Hazelwood ruling.

From a practical standpoint, school authorities need to control actions that infringe the rights of others or disrupt class activities. Nothing of that sort is in the record of the Hazelwood case. The principal clearly violated the First Amendment's anti-censorship provisions and a high-court majority has let him get away with it.

E-mail me and I'll get you a full copy of the text of that Hazelwood editorial. As Brain Schraum put it when he passed it along to me, what a difference 20 years makes.

Time's running out to register for J-Camp

This deadline for registering for this summer's student journalism workshop at Central Washington University, dubbed "Writes and Responsibilities," is quickly approaching.

In order to avoid a $25 late fee, your registration materials must be mailed by June 28. That's Thursday.

You can download the registration application here. I'll be one of the many journalism experts teaching at the workshop, so really, what more reason do you need to attend?

Monday, June 25, 2007

SPLC director reacts to 'Bong Hits' decision

The Student Press Law Center has put together its own, more detailed news flash regarding today's Supreme Court decision on "Bong Hits 4 Jesus."

The SPLC concurs that the ruling seems to be rather narrow and apply only to speech that advocates drug use, but director Mark Goodman said it still sets a poor precedent.

“It’s disappointing that the Court once again felt the need to diminish student First Amendment protection at a time when teenagers’ understanding and appreciation for the First Amendment is so incredibly low,” he said. “The last thing the country needs is a court ruling that further diminishes its relevance to their lives.”

Again, we'll have more as we have a chance to really digest the ruling.

Supreme Court rules against student in 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' free speech case

I don't have a lot of time to post at the moment, but in case you haven't seen it, the Supreme Court ruled today against Joseph Frederick in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case.

I haven't had a lot of time to review the court's opinion yet, but it appears the justices -- in a 6-3 decision -- ruled rather narrowly on the case, choosing to focus on the school's anti-drug mission in ruling that the speech restriction was justified.

"It was reasonable for (the principal) to conclude that the banner promoted illegal drug use-- and that failing to act would send a powerful message to the students in her charge," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court's majority.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissent, worried about the ramifications of limiting speech, especially that which seemed to be harmless.

"This case began with a silly nonsensical banner, (and) ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs, so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message."

We'll have more analysis on the fallout in the coming days. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Parent gets in on the action in Everett

On the heels of letters from WJEA President Kathy Schrier and the students of The Free Stehekin to the Everett Herald regarding the Everett School District's policy of prior review, here is another letter taking the district to task -- this time, from a parent:

Apparently the district does not trust these students, or their advisers, to use their heads and hearts when making editorial decisions. These are young people on the cusp of adulthood who deserve the opportunity to handle the responsibility of publishing their own newspapers and literary magazines.

Hopefully, all this pressure results in some action for the district, which has been strangely quiet on this whole situation.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Students of Free Stehekin speak out

As teachers, we often do a lot of work on behalf of students to defend their right to free speech in our schools.

Sometimes, though, the best thing we can do is let the students speak for themselves.

This excerpt is from a letter the staff of the Free Stehekin at Cascade High School wrote to the Everett Herald:

It is imperative that all students stand up for their rights to free speech. Not only is that right the first to be defined under the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution, but the Washington state Constitution also asserts, "Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right." Even those of us under 18 are entitled to freedom of speech.

Despite recent setbacks that have been extremely well covered by The Herald, we of the Free Stehekin are determined to continue our student forum and our battle for rights. A final edition for this year is planned for Friday, although we are certainly rushed getting it done!

Way to go, Free Stehekin.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Oregon student free expression bill off to the governor(!) for approval

In stark contrast to our struggle in Washington to get House Bill 1307 passed, the Oregon Senate has sent its student free expression bill to the governor for approval.

The bill will protect both college and high school journalists, although some Senate Judiciary Committee amendments did strip some of the protections from the bill, according to the Student Press Law Center:

HB 3279 stipulates that high school and college journalists are responsible for determining the content of school-sponsored media. The bill also affirms the right of student journalists to pursue a lawsuit under the state law against schools that violate free press rights.

But the Senate's amendments to the bill deleted a provision that designated college publications as "public forums" and removed the original bill's guarantee that student media advisers who refuse to censor student journalists cannot be fired or transferred. The House had previously amended the bill by removing "advertising" from a list of protected student expressions for high school students and excising a clause that would have allowed for the awarding of attorney's fees and costs. ...

Rep. Larry Galizio (D-Tigard), who introduced the bill in March, said while he thinks the bill was better in its original, more protective form, the law will lend much-needed support to student press. Galizio said he concurred with the Senate committee's revisions but plans to introduce new legislation in the fall that will offer more protections to student publications.

"I could have decided to not concur ... and risk losing the entire bill or I could do what I have chosen to do," he said.

There is some debate about whether the amendments will make much of a difference in the law's enforcement, but SPLC legal consultant Mike Hiestand -- a Washington resident who put in a lot of work on behalf of HB 1307 -- said no matter what, "the bottom line is that this is a good thing for Oregon student media."

Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski has indicated he will sign the bill into law. It would take effect on July 1.

Saga in Everett School District continues; WJEA president weighs in

The Everett School District is putting together quite an unenviable track record of trying to squelch student free expression rights.

It began last year with the mess at Everett High School, in which the school board backed a principal who required prior review, resulting in two students suing the district and the adviser being "reassigned." It has continued this year with the students at Cascade High School taking their newspaper underground -- as the students at Everett did -- in an effort to retain control over their publication, and resulted in a student and teacher being suspended for working on The Free Stehekin on school computers.

All because the administrators in the Everett School District insist on prior review of student publications.

In a letter to the editor published yesterday in the Everett Herald, WJEA President Kathy Schrier fired back:

Those of us involved in scholastic journalism are shaking our heads at the fallout from this flawed policy: two good teachers whose careers have been impacted, two former student editors who are suing the school district, and now a top student suspended for 10 days. Why? Because the Everett School District does not believe that students should control the content of their student publications. ...

When student newspapers are forced underground, students must learn by the seat of their pants - rather than in a classroom setting - how to use their voices in published works. This removes a tremendous opportunity for learning and exploring best practices under the guidance of a certificated teacher/adviser. ...

I propose that scrapping the policy would be a bold, educationally sound move for the Everett School Board. It would show a commitment to making Everett schools places where democratic principles are modeled, critical thinking is encouraged, and where students don't relinquish their rights at the schoolhouse gate.

This piggybacks on what the Herald said in its own editorial earlier last week.

The Everett School District shouldn't worry about a troublesome article showing up in a student newspaper. Its own actions have become embarrassing enough. ...

The suspensions are the latest chapter in a tale of administrative overreaction. ... (T)he district faces a federal trial, a hard-working student and a respected teacher are suspended, and journalism students don't have access to school equipment to publish campus newspapers, all because a misguided policy is being enforced. ...

Educators overseeing student publications are there to teach journalism. Students learn by engaging in the entire publishing process, including the chance to deal with the repercussions of printing controversial material.

The district's current policy has created problems rather than preventing them, and has fostered a hostile environment for student journalism. Enough damage has been done. The school board needs to abandon its policy of prior review.

The part that makes me laugh the most -- or maybe cry? -- is that Whittemore was suspended for 10 days because of a policy that "prohibits students from using school funds to create an unsanctioned publication."

Which makes me wonder.

Are they suspending every student who is using "school funds" -- computers, printers, telephones, etc. -- to create unsanctioned work at school? Or just those "dangerous" students producing newspapers?