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

Can Dexter Afford to Ignore Puyallup?

And why would we want to?

I have been researching the role of high school newspapers, the schools and student journalists. It is a complex issue with strong opinions on both sides. Perhaps the most eye opening articles I have found are those about Emerald Ridge High school. After two years the lawsuit filed against the Puyallup school district is finally in court. This case is all over the news. Google Puyallup and you will get a list of articles about the case. Here are a few facts and similarities to Dexter’s school newspaper that I have discovered.
  • The Jagwire, the Emerald Ridge Highschool newspaper, was run as a public forum, just as The Squall.
  • The Principals in the Puyallup School District did not review the high school newspapers before publication as a matter of policy just like our principal Mr. Moran.
  • The student journalists wrote a series of articles on a topic they felt was interesting to high school students.
  • This series of articles quoted students and used their names.
  • The articles won a statewide award.
  • The parents felt the topic was not appropriate for a high school news paper.
  • The quoted students were humiliated and harassed by the students at the school because of the articles.
  • They are suing the Puyallup school district; 2 faculty members and 3 students over the series of articles for $16 million up to $32 million.
  • Receiving an award did not keep the school district from being sued.
  • The Puyallup school district changed their policy to prior review by the principal as soon as the case was filed.
The bottom line is who is liable for what students print in the school newspaper? At a time when our school district is cutting programs because of financial issues, Dexter school district can not afford to ignore this situation. Now is the time to figure this out, before a student misjudgement in The Squall brings a lawsuit to our door.
  • Anything sponsored by the school is supposed to support education. School newspapers are not meant to be forums where anything goes and there are no restrictions. These are children. They are not adults. It is the responsibility of the school to ensure that each individual child is protected; even from themselves. 
  • Regular adult newspapers are not run as public forums. There is an editor. He tells you what you can write and how to write it. If he doesn't like your story, it doesn't get published. These open forum policies adopted by high schools are not mirroring the real world of journalism.
  • Right now no one is protected; the school, the advising teacher, the students being handed an adult content paper at school, the students the articles are about and the student writers (and therefore their parents who could be taken to court with them).

Check the facts:

Washington State High School Paper Goes to Court . . .

Reporting About Sex in High School (contains photos of actual pages from the JagWire issue that brought on the $32 mill. lawsuit)