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

Comment on Comments by Students--a must read

The blog has received 40 or so comments from students criticizing the blog.   The comments fall into the following categories:

1.  Attacks and Threats.  The most common comments are attacks or threats on the blog authors.  They tell us to back off, shut up, move somewhere else, and that nobody cares what we think.  There have also been threats against us, our child(ren), and any student who may agree with us.  We generally refuse to publish these kinds of comments, because we see them as having no value.  However, I do find it ironic that these budding First Amendment advocates so quickly try to squash any speech they disagree with.  We think it shows some of the folly in paying to provide an open forum for student expression when student expression so quickly turns to trying to bully and intimidate others. Because these threats and insults are allowed in a limited public forum such as the current Squall.

2.  Demands that the Blog Authors Identify Themselves.  There have been multiple criticisms of the fact that blog pieces are made anonymously.  They demand that the authors be identified.  We've responded that, given the hostility shown and the threats made (see No. 1 above), people should be allowed to comment anonymously if they want.  Otherwise, the fear of making a socially unpopular comment will just keep them quiet and suppress their voice.  For you First Amendment advocates out there, did you know that the Supreme Court is currently considering a case to decide whether the First Amendment includes a right to be anonymous while speaking in a public forum?  Not sure who should win that case?  Maybe you should just go talk to your journalism teacher or the SPLC so they can interpret the law for you.

3.  Criticisms of our Parenting Skills and Parenting Philosophy.   Many comments criticize our parenting skills, saying that trying to remove sexual material and other inappropriate stuff from school-sponsored things will somehow leave our kids unprepared to make good choices in the real world.  In our opinion, these comments don't make a lot of sense.  Yes, kids will have to face bad things in life, including crimes, hostility, bullying, and enticements for drugs, sex, alcohol and other vices, but it doesn't mean that the schools should sponsor those things!

 There's a reason that schools forbid bullying at schools.  There's a reason schools forbid advertising for drugs and alcohol at schools.  There's a reason schools forbid nudity and public displays of affection at schools.  While kids will still experience these things to some degree, it doesn't mean that the schools should promote it.  Child development research shows that young adolescents (which covers the early high school years) are particularly impressionable and are still in the critical stage of trying to learn what is culturally and socially acceptable.  

When the school pays for and puts its name on an activity, publication, or production, it has to realize that the school is conveying a message that it thinks the activity/message is okay.  And that message not only goes to the high schools students, it is being sent to the younger students who also see the paper, parades, etc.         

4.  Comments lauding the paper.  A number of people have commented that they like the newspaper, and mention awards for quality that the paper has received.  We agree that The Squall is a well-written paper; we also think that most of the articles in the paper are just fine.  We also see the value in having a paper where students can submit articles on subjects of interest to the students, as long as the articles are suitable for the audience that reads the paper. The problem is the occasional piece that is clearly inappropriate and harmful for at least some of the many students (both high school and younger students) who read the newspaper.  

The Puyallup JagWire issue on oral sex also won awards, but still got sued. The people giving the awards are different people than those who live in the community and entrust their children to the school system. I would not give an award to a paper that ran an article on oral sex (very in-depth including the hormonal responses) and handed it to freshmen at a public high school. We're not that impressed with awards given by groups lacking a moral compass to papers with irresponsible reporting.

5.  Comments claiming that the school does not pay for the student newspaper.  There have been a couple of accusations saying that we are wrong, that the school does not provide funds for the Squall.  For the students who said this, your facts are not correct.  While it is true that the students do some fundraising and get some advertising to help pay for the Squall, the principal has confirmed that the fundraising and advertising is not sufficient to pay for the Squall and that school does fund the student newspaper. And I'm thinking you are not renting the room, paying utilities, Mr. Satt's salary or using your own computers exclusively. Are you receiving high school credit for your journalism?

6.  Philosophical comments on why censorship is bad.  A number of comments talk about why freedoms are great, and censorship is bad, for society.  We understand the comments, and agree that freedoms, including the freedom of expression, are important.  However, most adults realize that one person's freedoms can no longer be supported when they start to harm other people.  

For example, you may think you should have the freedom to drive however you want, but the fact is you can only do so to the extent you are not causing a threat and risk to the other people out on the road.  You may think that you should be able to do whatever you want with your own trash, but littering laws are in place so that everyone else doesn't have to see your trash out in the public.  You may think that you should at least be able to urinate when you feel like it, but the fact is that laws are in place to prevent urination in public so that other people don't have to be exposed to the view and smell.  

In the same way, some students may feel like they should be able to say whatever they want in a student newspaper, but the fact is that there are children who also read the paper, for whom some of the content may be harmful. You can find another forum where it is appropriate to express all of your views, just not the school paper. Blog? Facebook? Twitter?

7.  Comments saying the blog is lying about First Amendment law.  There have also been a couple of comments claiming that the blog is wrong about First Amendment law, in particular about what the Hazelwood case says and about what types of content the Squall is being made open to if it is run as a public forum.  We have gone back over the law and stand by our analysis, but we encourage all readers to please take the time to read the Hazelwood case and other neutral sources, like Wikipedia's article on Obscenity, and reach your own opinion.  One of our principal points is that if you are relying on the Student Press Law Center for your information, you are relying on a biased source that has interests that are not in line with the best interests of the school or the students at DHS

8. A student comment agreeing that the Squall is not appropriate for high school students and sharing it's unofficial school but route. For this, the student received a threat that if anyone finds out her name, she's in deep trouble. Technically the threat is protected under the first amendment and could be published in the school paper because there is no immediate danger to the freshman.