« Law - Chicago Tribune editorializes against death penalty | Main | Law - Remember how Perry Mason could tell what typewriter a note was written on? »

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ind.Decisions - "Gay-rights article stirs debate over student freedoms"

Rebecca Neal of the Indianapolis Star writes today on the ongoing controversy in Woodburn Indiana over a student's opinion piece in the school paper. The teacher in charge of the paper has been suspended. Some quotes:

WOODBURN, Ind. -- Amy Sorrell figured the articles on teen pregnancy, teen motherhood and sexually transmitted diseases would be controversial, so she submitted them to her principal before publishing.

But the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School teacher didn't preapprove a student column calling for tolerance toward gays and lesbians that appeared in the same edition of the school paper.

Little did she know, that piece would make state and national news -- and get her suspended from her job this month.

"If we can talk about herpes and gonorrhea on one page, we should be able to talk about tolerance on the next page," says Sorrell, who doesn't believe she did anything wrong.

The controversy in this northeast Indiana town has found its way to national media outlets and has raised objections and concern from national journalism groups.

The case has also triggered debate over how much freedom student publications should have and how much editorial control principals should wield. * * *

[School principal Ed] Yoder, however, seems to be on solid legal ground for taking action on what he considers a violation of school rules.

An East Allen County Schools policy says principals are the publishers of school newspapers and allows them to edit or remove stories, a move that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled constitutional, said one Indiana legal scholar.

"There's no doubt to the constitutionality of that, since it's a school activity," said Henry Karlson, a law professor at the Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis. "Like any other part of the curriculum, and a student newspaper is part of the curriculum of a class, the principal has control."

The landmark student newspaper Supreme Court case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, requires school officials to demonstrate a reasonable educational justification before editing or removing stories.

What about colleges? Does the Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Hazelwood apply to colleges, or only high schools and elementary schools?

Because of a 7th Circuit decision in Hosty v. Carter, which the Supreme Court declined to review last year, the same rule applies to public universities in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. For more, see this ILB entry from March 2, 2006, and this one from March 24th, 2006.

For more coverage of this issue, see the Hosty v. Carter Information Page at the Student Press Law Center. It includes a history of the case, what looks to be links to all the appellate filings, commentary, etc. The en banc, 24-page, 2005 7th Circuit opinion is here, along with the oral arguments); the 7-4 opinion was written by Judge Easterbrook. His opinion begins:

Controversy began to swirl when Jeni Porche became editor in chief of the Innovator, the student newspaper at Governors State University. None of the articles concerned the apostrophe missing from the University’s name. Instead the students tackled meatier fare, such as its decision not to renew the teaching contract of Geoffrey de Laforcade, the paper’s faculty adviser.
The dissent (see. p. 15) begins:
EVANS, Circuit Judge, joined by ROVNER, WOOD, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges, dissenting. In concluding that Hazelwood extends to a university setting, the majority applies limitations on speech that the Supreme Court created for use in the narrow circumstances of elementary and secondary education. Because these restrictions on free speech rights have no place in the world of college and graduate school, I respectfully dissent.

The majority’s conclusion flows from an incorrect premise— that there is no legal distinction between college and high school students.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 26, 2007 10:59 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions