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, 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 statcounter.com. 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

Comment

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!

Comment

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.