Michigan High School Paper Censored · 17 March 2005

Filed under: Press Coverage

By CLAIRE CUMMINGS and LAUREN PHILLIPS--The State News--03/18/05

Distribution of an independent East Lansing High School student newspaper was halted this week after school officials said the student writers did not conform to East Lansing School Board's policies. But students involved in the production of the paper, the Right Way, feel their freedom of speech is being infringed upon.

"I thought the school would respect our First Amendment rights, but they didn't," co-editor Tyler Whitney, 16, said. "They just don't like any different voices in the school."

The paper contains conservative points of view about current events, Whitney said.

Superintendent David Chapin said the problems lie not in the content of the newspaper, but in the process.

He said board policies require asking the principal for permission to distribute the publication and allowing him or her to review it before it is distributed, as well as policies about student organizations.

"These were created over time to guide us through when these issues come up," Chapin said.

He said the policies say the principal has the right to preview materials before it is distributed, to be sure there is no inflammatory or disruptive content.

"It needed to be reviewed," he said.

The Student Press Law Center, however, said the school only can censor a student publication if the material is illegal or will create a significant and physical disturbance.

According to the Student Press Law Center Web site, the most recent court decision on underground newspapers held that school administrators have no blanket right to review or change an underground newspaper before publication.

"No, absolutely not at a public school," said Adam Goldstein, a new media legal fellow with the center. "They can't stop it just because they feel like it."

Goldstein said the administration would need a reason in advance to stop the distribution of the paper, and students must be informed.

Senior Jean Bailey, editor in chief of The Portrait, East Lansing High School's newspaper, said it makes sense that the administration know of the new paper's existence before it is distributed.

"I support the fact that people really want to share their political views," she said. "At the same time I think they need to follow the same regulations other school publications have to."

Bailey said although many students didn't agree with the views of the Right Way, they respect the students' rights to pass it out.

The papers are sitting in the back of a friend's car, waiting to be distributed, Whitney said, adding he plans to pass them out once the controversy receives attention in the community. He said he will risk discipline in order to demonstrate his rights.

"Everybody should be able to have a voice ... even if they are in a minority," he said.