Student Journalists Yell 'Stop The Press' on Principle (and at Principal)

Filed under: In The News

Schools have the legal right to censor content. Courtesy of The Viewer

Stop the presses. Literally.

Students at Mounds View High School in Minnesota are
refusing to put out a school paper if Principal Julie Wikelius insists on approving each issue before it goes to press.

The Student Press Law Center reports student journalists published a story about two classmates who were disciplined after posting a "joke" picture of a teacher on Facebook.

Wikelius confiscated copies of The Viewer, the school newspaper, and insisted on reviewing future issues before they go to press.

Such prior restraint is a violation of the First Amendment in the adult world; the 1931 U.S. Supreme Court case of Near vs. Minnesota specifically addressed the issue.

Students in public schools once enjoyed the same First Amendment rights as everyone else. But in the 1988 Supreme Court case of Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier, justices ruled that public school districts -- as the publishers of their school newspapers -- have a right to censor content.
So walking off the job in protest may be the only recourse available to students at Mounds View.

Christina Xia, the editor of The Viewer, tells the Student Press Law Center that Principal Wikelius was interviewed several times for the controversial story. However, Wikelius did not read the story before it was printed.

According to the center's Web site, Wikelius asked that the story be pulled to protect student confidentiality. By that time, however, Xia reports, the paper had already been sent to press.

Wikelius reportedly said she was concerned about releasing private disciplinary information without parental consent, but Xia counters that the reporter had gotten permission from the students' parents to publish their names.

Paul Ratwick, an attorney representing Mounds View High School District, tells the Student Press Law Center the law is the law. Kids can like it or lump it.

"In the past, the role of the administration has been a bit more distant, that they had left perhaps a greater deal of responsibility to the adviser than they are now contemplating. But in terms of the fact of the control of the district, it's been there all along. It's a question of how they exercise it," he says.

Students are getting legal advice from the Student Press Law Center and attorney Steve Aggregaard.

Ironically, this drama is playing out in Minnesota -- the same battleground that spurred the landmark Supreme Court case on prior restraint almost 80 years ago. Mounds View High School is a suburban school just seven miles north of Minneapolis.

"I do not believe that prior review is the solution," Xia says on the center's Web site. "I think that prior review will limit us from learning responsible journalism."

Related: High School Student's Privacy Invaded By Vice Principal?

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