The Seattle Times' Opinion on "Public Forum" Student Papers

"But we say again it is a risky thing to give legal control of a high-school newspaper to students."

Seattle Times Editorial

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Great Idea from the Student Press Law Center

The SPLC reminds me of my big sister when she said, "I've got a great idea. You should rig the kitchen sink sprayer to spray mom when she turns on the water." I did. And about the time mom got sprayed in the face, and my sister started laughing hysterically, the light dawned on me and I realized I'd been had.

Here's the latest advice from the SPLC to student journalists who find themselves writing for papers that are subject to prior review:

Go ahead and do all the work to write the paper, but refuse to print it as long as there is prior review."

And that hurts whom? ...  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

School Newspaper Update

The school board is leaning toward no prior review, in which case, administrators, including the principal, will only read the paper after it is published and distributed. The advisor will be limited to just making suggestions while the school district and taxpayers still bear the brunt of legal repercussions--even from inadvertent errors made by teenage editors.

The board indicated they do not feel comfortable telling the students what is appropriate for the student body. "Everyone on the board may feel like oral sex is not an appropriate topic, but there will be someone out there who disagrees," Bonnie Everdeen was heard to say at the special policy meeting on July 22.

They stated they are planning to trust the student editors to make content decisions. The newspaper has already:
  • published a nude photograph of John Lennon
  • included high school drug dealing in a jobs feature along with practical information on how to get away with it
  • advertised a dicey club where crimes have been reported as just a fun alternative to the school dances
  • promoted as the #1 video of the year a youtube video that comes the warning: extreme profanity--do not view if under 18 ("went outside, smoked a bad of meth" "you're no better than the three holes you were born with" + profanity throughout)
  • claimed a TV show (Tila Tequila) that "practically promotes alcoholism . . . must be cool" (squall reporter quote).
  • published an informational survey of DHS students asking where they get their alcohol
  • distributed the photograph of a clearly recognizable teenage girl in a sexual pose with another student after she told them she did not want it published (they later removed it from the website, but only after handing the printed copy out to all the students at the high school--and of course, the online fingerprint remains for anyone interested in retrieving the offending image). 
One school board member ignorantly compared the sexual grinding to girls harmlessly playing volleyball and bumping into each other and said he didn't see what the difference was. And all of the board members expressed the idea that since "nothing had crossed the line in the newspaper so far," they didn't expect anything to cross the line in the future and were satisfied to give judgement calls to the students.

We disagree. Especially in a school sponsored newspaper distributed directly to kids. Some very negative messages about women and their role in society are being given to impressionable teens (the boys as well as the girls).

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Common Sense in the Seattle Times

November 10, 2011

"I was told by the principal, by the newspaper adviser and by the Edmonds School Board that the students were completely in charge of the newspaper and no adults were in the position to help with the decision of which articles should go in the paper.

Of course I am aware of the U.S. Constitution and right to free speech. However, these are minors in an educational institution using taxpayer money to produce the student newspaper. They are in high school to learn and be advised, and yet it appears that educators are afraid to provide education, leadership and expertise.
If we are preserving the students’ First Amendment rights, then are we to preserve the Second Amendment as well and allow them the right to bear arms? Where does it stop?"
We are wondering this ourselves. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

High for the ACT, MME?

We received an email from a student that "a lot" of juniors came to school high for the three testing days. Since we obviously have no way to confirm this or know what he means by "a lot," we're just passing along his comment. He said that on any given day, there are always a few kids high, but it's kind of a joke to show up for testing that way and this year was no exception.

I don't know what the school could do to prevent this. But letting those kids stay at school and take the test doesn't help anyone.

It makes the "how to sell drugs at DHS" employment article a little less funny. See sidebar: "Dirty Dealing" by Kevin Yarows. (Firefox works better for the site than Safari)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Responsible Reporting--the link works now

The students at DHS know how to write responsibly. Check out the March issue.

Teen pregnancy is a controversial topic and they handled it quite well--showing different points of view and sharing resources. They should aim for more articles like that, rather than things designed to shock or retaliate. You can check it out here.

March 2010 Rostrum

It should be pointed out that Alex E. said they were more careful with the March issue. It shows.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


The Puyallup School District won the lawsuit. Thank goodness. After two years of costly litigation, the mess is finally over (barring an appeal).

The case hinged on whether permission was given by the students to have their names and stories published in the JagWire. One of the students whose parents were suing told a friend she was going to lie about giving permission. I expect that had something to do with the outcome.

A limited public forum where students make legal decisions for themselves and the school is a bad idea. It's bad for the school district. Even though the Puyallup school district chose to run the student paper as a public forum and not oversee what was published and said the student journalists were responsible for the content, they were named as defendants in the lawsuit and paid a high price.

I don't think they will go back to a public forum format any time soon.


Dexter Leader: Thanks to everyone for keeping the issue fresh at the Dexter Leader. I love the letters and comments. Smart--to the point--great!    You can read the letters here.


The most offensive photo has been removed from online version of the Feb. 2010 Squall. That's great, but it doesn't go far enough. The paper was distributed to the entire student body and numerous businesses around Dexter. The Club Crome article was published online and left there for nearly two months--all after one of the students in the photo asked that it not be distributed with the photograph included.

Removing the photo implies that publishing it in the first place was a mistake--but it's too late.  The picture has been seen by a lot of people. A prior review might have stopped the photo from being published in the first place.

There are still plenty of teenagers grinding and several of them are clearly recognizable in the remaining photos.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

To Sum Up

The school board will have the chance to choose from among 4 possible policies for the Squall.

You can read them here.

The Plymouth-Canton school board chose one of the same 4 media policies from NEOLA on March 23rd. Here is their committee report with recommendation from March 9th (13 minutes long) and their vote (5 minutes long) on video.

Policy Committee Report (the first 13 minutes)

Plymouth-Canton School Board Vote (skip ahead to 2:00:45--Find out which option the board voted for.)

It will be interesting to see what our school board does. If there is any news, I will post it.

I think this blog did what it set out to do: raise awareness in the community. The school board has the unenviable job. If you would like to send us a message, email us through the "contact us" link and make sure to leave your name.

The blog has gone from it's highest daily page view count of 3,189 and first time visitor count of 1,101 on March 29th to an average this week of 361 page views per day and 183 first time visitors per day.

Although we touched on other issues, the main focus has been supervision for The Squall. And that is certainly getting the attention and discussion it deserves.

Thanks for everything: the good, the bad and the ugly.

[I might still post the page "Who is the Student Press Law Center and why are they emailing school boards?"

The SPLC reminds me of my big sister when she said, "I've got a great idea. You should rig the kitchen sink sprayer to spray mom when she turns on the water." I did. And about the time mom got sprayed in the face, and my sister started laughing hysterically, I knew I'd been had.]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Regarding Journalism in the Real World

There is no unfettered free speech at newspapers. The publisher and the editors decide what does and does not get published. If they don’t like an article that a journalist has written, it either doesn’t run or it is edited. They edit articles based on: 1) their own personal prejudices and standards; and 2) the standards of the community in which the newspaper is published. They know that if they publish articles or advertisements that are offensive, then people stop buying the paper and the newspaper loses lots of money in subscriptions and advertising. This is the way that all newspapers except for some high school and college papers work. I know because I worked for a paper the size of the now-defunct Ann Arbor News for eight years writing and editing and working in advertising.

Dexter High School journalism students should get the full journalistic experience. They should be prepared to work in the real world. They should be better supervised – just like at a real newspaper. They should have their articles edited for content to reflect the standards of the community – just like at a real newspaper.

I’ve read several issues of the Dexter Squall. I applaud those journalism students at Dexter High School who work hard at producing quality articles. However, some students are taking the low and easy road. Their tabloid journalism is offensive and not fit for any high school newspaper or for 99 percent of the newspapers published in this country. It is better that they learn this lesson now, than to be allowed to continue to produce articles that no respectable newspaper would publish.

Michael P.
(worked at a newspaper for 8 years)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comment--email submission


I appreciate that there's a lot of legal stuff going on here. But I would like to get back to the basic topic of "have you seen what's in the paper" because I cannot believe they are allowed to publish those photos and articles and things like "if you want to grope your boyfriend but can't do it in the halls, go to the dances and do it there."  And what about that girl who said in a paper from 2008 that she was groped against her will at a dance. She didn't like it and she didn't want it to happen. 

I am probably going to be called names, too, but this is a school paper for goodness sake. It reads like it's for college students and my 13 year old is not ready for that in September!!
I finally got the Club Chrome page to load and I'm disgusted. Save it for facebook and print school news. And that drug dealer article is not funny. Is that supposed to be an advertisement for a job selling drugs (easy money and you won't get caught)?

Sincerely (and actually thanks for writing this blog and sharing the information),
[last name withheld by blog editor, since you have a child heading to the high school next year]

[here's the link to the original post Have you seen what's in the DHS paper?]

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

This blog is to share information, not argue.

Like the Student Press Law Center, we are an advocacy group. Just like them, we advocate one side.

We have read every single comment. Even the threats and profanity. That's just not the point of the blog. If you want a public forum for this topic, don't complain or bully us--just make one. Blogspot is free to anyone with a google account. And you can get a free stat counter at It's fun to see where people are viewing from and you can even check out if the comments come from iphones or school computers or Hawaii. It's pretty cool. Statcounter is in real time--some of the other counters update only intermittently.

The Committee for a Better Dexter

Monday, March 29, 2010


An anonymous freshman said...

All the awful stuff in the Squall is seen by any kid over 4th grade on the bus. They are all interested in the paper and read it. I tear out bad pages before I let them have my copy, but they still get it from other high school kids. They are really really influenced and they think if you are cool you should act like the people in the Squall.

In addition to the Squall, isn't Venus on the wall next to the CPA pornography? Not only do the high school kids have to see it, but little kids who come in for band concerts and orchestra too. Many kids I talk to wish it was just painted over. I personally find it degrading and disrespectful to girls. Why don't they let the seniors paint a dress on her or something?

It isn't just Venus, we are stuck watching some horrible movies in a freshman class as well. By horrible, I mean to show my parents clips of the movies shown in class that are also on youtube, you have to sign on youtube that you are over 18 due to content "inappropriate for some users"!

In my personal opinion, the teachers who allow these movies about as mature as the kids who put the Crome pictures in the Squall.

An angry and disappointed freshman girl!


Anonymous said...

Looking beyond the newspaper, I was disturbed by the "Casino/Gambling" theme of the 2009 homecoming floats. I do not think this was an appropriate theme for high school students, as gambling is illegal for minors, let alone for my 3rd grader who watched the parade with her class. Certainly Matt is correct in that we all have other things we need to do, but this is too important to just sit back and do nothing about!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Have You Seen What's in the DHS Newspaper?

If not, you should check it out. Here are links and pictures so you can see what is being published and distributed in The Squall/Rostrum. The Squall is the paper and the The Rostrum is an insert.

If you only have time to read one article, make it the Club Crome feature article from the Feb. 2010 Squall.

Dexter School Board member email addresses are linked at the top. Feel free to send emails to the school board and let them know how you feel about the paper and its content.

We thought if parents and others in the Dexter school district knew what was being distributed, they might have opinions on it.

Important: some of the images and stories are offensive. We are in no way promoting them. But if you don't see them, you won't know what the adolescents at Dexter High School are being exposed to each month.

If you have young children in the Dexter School System and are assuming that the paper will be better supervised by the time they get to high school, you should know that the basic philosophy and content limits have been the same for several years. There's no reason to expect anything to change unless parents speak up.

Here are some examples of previous covers with links. Photo links can be found on the right column.

The Drugs Drinking Dexter (the bylaws prohibit T-shirts with alcohol products on them, but the paper is publishing photos of hard liquor bottles on its cover).
For the online version of Drugs Drinking Dexter issue, click here.
The actual article is not promoting alcohol, but you have to read the story to find that out.

The Love Issue
For online version of The Love Issue, click here.
A fully naked John Lennon can be seen on the spread.

And here is a snippet from the most recent Squall. To see the entire page (recommended), please click here and go to the Feb 2010 Squall, page 4.

Article Title: Club Crome by Erin M.

Being accustomed to the heavily supervised and rule laden school dances, there is a definite difference in atmosphere walking into Club Crome in Whitmore Lake. The Small dance floor is packed with sweaty, thrusting, barely-covered teens while the hip-hop music blares . . . . 

But the photo is worse.

The "dance" move of the girl bracing her hands on her knees (or the wall) to give her "dance partner" better leverage from behind was photographed and showcased in the Feb 2010 article on page 4. The act has been banned from the school dances (after over two years of controversy), and yet somehow is still being allowed in full view in the most recent Squall. [Update: the photo has been removed from the online edition.]

And if you look closely, the group dance photo used in the article is much like an obscene Where's Waldo. Girls are braced against the wall while men approach them from behind in various corners of the photo. Why is this article printed in the DHS paper at all? No mention is made of having to wait hours outside in all kinds of weather to get in or stolen cell phones or "creepy old guys"(a quote from an online reviewer) or drug paraphernalia on the ground seen by students who go there. It is not a balanced article.

If you are going to tell kids about this great club, then responsible reporting requires mention also of the negatives.

I think this is the most extreme example of inappropriate content in The Squall. In an interview with the SPLC, the Squall editor said, "The picture was just teenagers dancing." 

The Burning Question

"Is the material being regularly published in The Squall/Rostrum appropriate for students?"

Parents want to have a say in what their children are exposed to at school.

Journalism teachers want to fight for free speech and freedom of the press.

Administrators want to stay balanced between "cool" and "firm"--to protect the rights of the outspoken and also those of the general student population.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has already explicitly set the standard for student press. And we must all set our prejudices aside and abide by the law. Here is what they say:

"A public high school newspaper, written and edited by students in a journalism class, is not a forum for public expression, and school officials are accordingly entitled to regulate the contents of such a newspaper in any reasonable manner..." and "the fact that students are permitted to exercise some authority over the contents of the newspaper, consistent with the curriculum guide's objective of teaching the journalism students leadership responsibilities as editors, does not imply a decision to relinquish school control over the newspaper."

The court then specifically found it to be reasonable for the principal to remove an article with "frank" talk regarding teenage sexual activity from the school newspaper given that it's a school-sponsored publication and is distributed to students as young as 14 years old. Hazelwood, 484 US at 274-75. Hazelwood also says that "a school must also retain the authority to refuse to sponsor student speech that might reasonably be perceived to advocate drug or alcohol use ...."

Please read the past issues and decide for yourself. (The Squall) If you feel that the paper is advocating/ advertising drugs or alcohol or being too "frank" regarding teenage sexual activity, or telling the students where they can go to find these things* please feel free to comment here or use the links to email the board of education and tell them how you feel.

*Any of these would be contrary to the standards of either federal law or the school bylaws.

Why Aren't the Dexter School System Bylaws Being Enforced?

The Dexter Community Schools' Bylaws state that "In sponsoring a student publication or production, the Board is mindful of the fact that the publication could be available to any student attending the school, and must, therefore, generally be suitable for all students"

and that "The Board reserves the right to ... prohibit the distribution of publications and productions which ... contain obscenity or materials otherwise deemed to be harmful to impressionable students who may receive them." Bylaws, at section 5722.

"Does the principal have the right to run the paper as a public forum where anything the students want to say must be allowed even though this violates school board policy?"

The newspaper contains jokes about the statutory rape of freshmen and being "wasted" at school dances. And the most recent issue has photos of the actual banned "dance" move being performed by students.

By not reading the paper until after it is published the principal believes he has washed his hands of responsibility. He says the Squall is not the Dexter High School Paper. It is an independent public forum where the students have complete freedom to say whatever they like. He does have responsibility for it whether he chooses to read it or not.

Mr. Satterthwaite edits for style and grammar occasionally, but never for content. Even though the school is not permitted to run a public forum style newspaper, that is what it is doing.

Please email the board of education and let them know if you do not want to see the DHS paper used as a public forum. The board of education has the power to require supervision and age appropriate content. Just ask them to.