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

Letters to the Dexter Leader

[Cara shared this with us.] 

From the students' point of view, the February 2010 Club Crome article in the high school paper had incredibly bad timing. Just when the school board was already reviewing district policies and planning to rewrite article 5722 –– the media policy, The Squall crossed the line and published the article containing questionable photos of teenage girls and boys which were published without the students' written permission (the photos came directly from the club).

The article described Club Crome as a place where sweaty, thrusting barely covered teens could go for the adult-like atmosphere. This only added to parent concerns about other questionable content in recent issues and the media supervision policy of the high school newspaper.

As far back as 2006, the paper seemed to know it was operating outside the school district bylaws and said it was hoping to continue doing so. The interview, can be viewed online at Fingers Crossed in Dexter  if you scroll halfway down the page.

If the board rewrites the bylaws to clearly make the paper a non-public forum, they are not "taking away the rights of the students" or "censoring The Squall" or even changing their policy in any significant way. They would just be clearing up any misunderstandings and binding off any perceived loopholes in the current policy.

They would also be protecting the student journalists and their parents, the staff, the principal, and the schools from potentially damaging legal repercussions.

The Seattle Times published an editorial strongly in favor of school supervision after a Washington high school was sued for publishing sexual histories of four students without written consent.

“(We) say again it is a risky thing to give legal control of a high school newspaper to students," the Seattle Times editorial board wrote. "We said at the time that high school papers are vehicles for teaching, and school districts should remain responsible for what is in them. The reporters and editors are students. Most high school students are not legally adults."

Written by a professional journalist, the editorial hits the nail on the head. Please take the time to read the entire editorial online. Google "Seattle Times editorial, Emerald Ridge."

Concerning the editorial, I would say, "ditto." The rules for school sponsored and distributed teenage speech are different than the rules for college or adult newspapers. Attempts to shift liability for the content to children (per NEOLA policy options 2, 3 and 4) do not solve the problem and do not protect the students.

I hope the school board will go with NEOLA media policy No. 1. The Plymouth-Canton school board chose policy No. 1 because it was the only one of the four that their attorneys could rec-ommend, and because it offered the most safety for the teachers, students and school.

Before their unanimous vote for policy No. 1, they said: "It may not be the most popular, but it is the right thing to do."

Cara J.


Printed with Paul's permission

There has been a lot of discourse recently on Dexter High School's paper, which seems to avoid the core of the issue. Many things have been said, it seems, to distract the decision makers and discourage legitimate opposition through intimidation.

So what is the real issue at hand? It is not censorship? It is not about limiting Constitutionally guaranteed rights? Is it not an attempt to legislate morals? That is not what this is about. After all, are second amendment rights honored at the school?

It is about accountability.

Ultimately, the group or individual who is accountable for a publication has the right and responsibility to define and control the content. This is the core of the issue facing the Dexter Community Schools Board of Education. If they choose to retain accountability then they will also retain control on content (it would be the responsible thing to do as the paper represents the school).

Implementing the current policy of prior review should also include reasonable limits on that review and an appeals process to insure truly newsworthy articles are published.

On the other hand, if the board relinquishes content control to the students then the board also assumes no liability. If they do select this option, then I hope they also clearly define where the liability falls. Should parents sign a waiver to allow their children to contribute to The Squall?

It is also about responsibility.

Students have a responsibility to follow the policies defined by the School Board. DCS employees have a responsibility to enforce the policies. I do not think this point is lost to the stu-dents. Though the current policies have not been followed 100 percent, it is clear the students take their role seriously and accept responsibility for the content. The editor of The Squall even implied one of the controversial photos was inappropriate in an online comment: "Had we been concerned solely on appropriateness and not run the photo..." It takes a lot of courage to accept that responsibility.

In the end, The Squall is a paper written by students, for students. The board will make a decision to define exactly what that means.

Paul D.