Student publication policy faces revision

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

It is a question that Clovis High School English teacher Carol Singletary poses to many of her students: If a story is published, who will it help and who will it hurt?

As an adviser for the student newspaper, Purple Press, Singletary believes students should be able to answer that question independently, to experience the tangled world of ethics firsthand, judging what is suitable for print and what is not. But that process is in peril, once again, at Clovis High School, she believes.

A revised student publication policy, which freed student publications from review by the principal, was approved last June. That decision followed complaints from student journalists who said the prior-review policy prevented two stories from being published — one was an editorial, which lambasted school homophobia; the other, an article that reported rising rates of abstinence, according to Singletary.

The district later hired attorney Donn Williams, director of policy service for New Mexico School Boards Association, to review and revise all school board policies with respect to state law.

The new Bible-sized compilation, with hundreds of stipulations and instructions, is scheduled for school board preliminary review July 14. If approved, the student publication policy passed last June may be reversed to its original state, making student publications once again subject to principal review.

Singletary spent hours crafting the school publication policy, using a Colorado school student publication policy and the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Supreme Court ruling as a guide. A single-sentence regulation, she discovered, was added to her draft. It reads ‘students shall be required to submit publications to the principal for approval prior to distribution,’ and although small, Singletary said it could have far-reaching consequences for Clovis High students.

“When we say the First Amendment doesn’t apply to teenagers, that scares me,” Singletary said from her home. “We need to be training the next generation of journalists to take their job responsibly, as the Fourth Estate — the watchdog. And I expect the rest of the students to get used to reading a paper that isn’t controlled.”

Williams said the additions he made to school board policies were of legal importance.

“I dealt with the (Clovis Municipal Schools) administration when making my recommendations (for the policies). I can say that I didn’t recommend anything that I didn’t feel was legally correct… My job is to protect the school board from legal entanglements,” Williams said, repeatedly referring to the Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al Supreme Court ruling. That ruling deemed “First Amendment rights of students in public schools not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings,” according to a copy of the ruling posted on the Internet.

Singletary, who views the school’s struggle as indicative of larger problems in the field of journalism, said she will attend the July 14 school board meeting.

“I am there to make sure the students are not violating privacy laws,” Singletary said, “that they are asking the right questions.”

“They will make mistakes, but they learn best from those types of errors. If we don’t teach kids to be ethical and responsible and to expect ethical leadership, then our country as a whole is on a dangerous path.”