When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines School District in 1969 that students do not shed their right to free speech at the schoolhouse gate, it seemed that the issue was settled once and for all. But that was not the case in the Lodi Unified School District when the Bear Creek High School newspaper published an article about a student who made pornographic videos (“Writing About Teenager Who Makes Sex Videos, School Paper Becomes the News,” The New York Times, May 4).
The district demanded that the article be turned over for review before appearing online or in print, claiming that the piece might violate a state rule prohibiting anything featuring “obscenity, defamation and incitement.” Only after the newspaper’s faculty adviser and the student who wrote the piece retained a lawyer did the district finally relent.
What is disturbing is the hypocrisy of school officials who say they want to develop critical thinking skills in students and yet refuse to treat students accordingly. It’s little wonder that high school students rebel. Adding to the controversy is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier in 1988. In a 5-3 ruling, the high court held that school administrators can exercise prior restraint of school-sponsored expression, including newspapers. If that is so, then the ruling makes a mockery of its decision in the Tinker case.
I can understand if the article in the present case disrupted learning or was libelous. But it clearly was neither. Nevertheless, the district tried to block publication on the grounds that it had a duty to protect young students from harmful content. But how would these students be harmed? They are regularly exposed to images that go far beyond what the article described. I wouldn’t want to be the adviser for a high school newspaper in the present climate. It’s a thankless job.
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