Sunday, March 18, 2007

Vashon Island student journalists show need for HB 1307

What counts as a substantial disruption to the educational process? In Vashon Island, it takes only a few phone calls.
“I’m very frustrated,” Amanda Zheutlin, one of three co-editors of the Riptide, said in an interview this week. “I don’t think they made the decision because the article was illegal or bad. I think it was controversial and they don’t want controversy.”

The Riptide is a district-supported newspaper and by district policy the principal may review the contents before the paper goes to print. Officials can prohibit publication if there is evidence indicating it could cause a substantial disruption of school, such as a riot or a walkout.

Vashon High School Principal Susan Hanson, in a letter to the student editors written after consulting with district Superintendent Marguerite Walker, said that the newspaper is not “an appropriate vehicle for airing concerns, complaints and criticisms of District staff.”

Hanson also raised concerns about “the fairness and open-mindedness of the article and possible defamation claims.”

Students said they met with Walker and she contended the coach story would disrupt school operations by generating phone calls to her, Hanson and the athletic director.
The article was reviewed by the Student Press Law Center and found to be fair to its subject, despite Hanson's objection. (Defamation can be claimed only if an allegation is false.)

HB 1307 would place liability squarely on the students writing the piece, forcing them to take the utmost caution with inflammatory facts. It would allow the charges to be discussed in an open forum, rather than remaining the stuff of innuendo and rumor. And, mostly, it would respect the right of student journalists to promote truth in the public interest.

No comments: