Michigan Judge Rules Utica School Violated Student Journalist's Free Speech Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
October 12, 2004 12:00 am

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DETROIT – A federal court judge ruled today that a Utica high school violated the First Amendment by censoring an article in the school newspaper written by the paper’s student editor, Katherine Dean. Judge Arthur Tarnow ruled from the bench, ending the two-year old lawsuit.

“Judge Tarnow’s decision recognizes that student journalists don’t forfeit their First Amendment rights when they write for school newspapers,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “Katy Dean met high journalistic standards and school officials had no valid educational reason to censor the article.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Katherine Dean was a senior at Utica High School and the managing editor of the Arrow, the school paper. Katy’s article was about a lawsuit filed against Utica Community Schools by a Shelby Township resident who lived next to the school district’s bus garage and who alleged that diesel fumes from idling buses caused him to become ill.

“Since the school chose to make the Arrow available as a forum for communication by the student writers and by the community, administrators cannot pick and choose which articles to place in the paper except under very limited circumstances,” said Andrew Nickelhoff, the ACLU cooperating attorney who argued the case.

The school district argued in court that the article was censored because it contained pseudonyms, factual inaccuracies, indicated a lack of research and was unbalanced because the school district chose not to give Ms. Dean a comment. Judge Tarnow disagreed, saying that two of those concerns were resolved before the article would have been printed and that the school’s other concerns were not valid. He also said “the case should have been resolved when it was filed, thus saving the school district a lot of money for a principle that’s indefensible.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Tarnow indicated that he would issue a written decision within the month.

Besides Nickelhoff, Dean is represented by Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the Michigan ACLU.

Read the ACLU’s legal complaint online at http://www.aclumich.org/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=78

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