Saturday, January 11, 2003

Student editors sue after confiscation


Administrators: Story might be libelous

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - Student editors at a high school newspaper filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing their school district of violating their First Amendment rights by confiscating an edition of the paper.

U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent turned down a request from the four Wooster High School students for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the district from prohibiting the newspaper's distribution.

Last month, the district confiscated 4,500 copies of the biweekly paper after lawyers said the publication contained inaccuracies and was potentially libelous.

Student editors said the copies of the Wooster Blade were seized because the newspaper ran a story saying athletes and the daughter of a school board member consumed alcohol at a party.

The school district will identify what it finds objectionable - likely students' names - and editors will "white out" the copy, said Kenneth Myers, a lawyer for the students.

The editors will make other changes on consultation with their adviser and write a story for publication explaining why there are deleted portions, Mr. Myers said.

"We're still going to fight for the right to publish it as is," he said.

Principal James Jackson said a teacher told him about a possible confidentiality problem.

Mr. Jackson said federal law forbids identifying students who face disciplinary action unless their parents allow the students' names to be listed. He said the school could be vulnerable to lawsuits.

At least two students said they were misquoted in statements that "attributed to them acts of misconduct and potentially acts of criminal behavior," Superintendent David Estrop said.

Students at the paper stood by their reporting.

The district's policy is for students to make all final decisions on editorial content in the newspaper.

The policy says that freedom does not extend to material that is obscene or defamatory or would disrupt school activities. A faculty adviser reviews the newspaper before publication.

Mr. Estrop said the newspaper's adviser was unable to review the Dec. 20 issue before its deadline because she had been called away on a family matter.

Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said he reviewed the reporting at the editors' request and saw nothing that violated libel laws.

Whether administrators can insist on prior review has been an issue in high school journalism since 1988, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled limits can be set on the free-press rights of students.




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