ACLU Urges School To Stop Censorship Of Student Newspaper

Affiliate: ACLU of Ohio
November 10, 2009 12:00 am

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School’s Demand for Prior Review Threatens Free Speech

STOW, OH- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter today calling on Stow-Munroe Falls High School officials to stop censoring the Stohion, the school’s student newspaper. The request comes after weeks of debate between school administrators and students after the newspaper staff attempted to run a memorial for a student who committed suicide. The memorial included a photo of the student and a letter from his parents thanking the community for their support. After learning of the planned memorial, the school prevented it from being published and then asserted that they must have editorial control over all future editions.

ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis said, “This is a clear case of censorship of an issue that has deeply touched the community. The students have done everything right in this situation, including reaching out to the parents and obtaining their consent. Now, officials are punishing them by demanding full editorial control over the newspaper.”

Memorials for students who have passed away have been routinely published in the Stohion in past years. In 2005, the paper printed two full page memorials for two students who committed suicide.

“Schools do have some limited ability to oversee newspapers to ensure they do not cause a substantial disruption to the learning environment. However, the newspaper has printed memorials many times without incident. It defies logic why the school would suddenly decide that this may cause a problem” added Davis.

Following the school’s decision to censor the Stohion, officials demanded to have full editorial control over the paper. Students responded by refusing to publish the newspaper so long as the school attempted to exert editorial control.

Courts have ruled that officials may make content decisions on some newspapers, if they are under the full control of the school. However, newspapers that are student-run, like the Stohion, have greater free speech protections and may not be arbitrarily censored. The school may also not retaliate and demand editorial control if the newspaper publishes content it does not like.

Davis concluded, “It is unfortunate that an institution of learning would impose harsh restrictions on a tool for students to expand their writing and critical reasoning skills. The purpose of a school newspaper is to provide an open forum for students to explore issues that are important to them and pass that information on to others. By censoring this memorial and claiming full editorial control over the paper, the school has placed a huge barrier to students’ ability to openly and honestly discuss many topics.”

Read the letter sent to the Stow-Munroe Falls superintendent

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