The purpose of this policy is to protect students’ rights to free speech in the production of official school publications while at the same time balancing the school administration’s role in supervising student publications and managing the operations of public schools.
It is the policy of the School Committee that expressions and representations made by students in school publications are not an expression of official school district policy. Students producing official school publications shall be under the supervision of a Faculty Advisor and the School Principal. Official publications shall be subject to the guidelines set forth below. Faculty Advisors shall supervise student activities, teach students the appropriate knowledge and skills as established in the school curriculum, and direct students to apply appropriate and accepted standards for journalism in their writings. Faculty Advisors shall supervise students so as to ensure compliance with the law and school district policies.
Official school publications by students must be approved by the School Principal and may be distributed at reasonable times and locations as directed by the School Principal. Students who believe their right to free expression has been unreasonably restricted in an official student publication may seek review of the decision by the Assistant Superintendent. The Assistant Superintendent shall issue a decision no later than three (3) school days after review is requested. The student may further appeal the decision of the Assistant Superintendent to the School Committee. Any appeal to the School Committee will be held in Executive Session.
Distribution: means the circulation or dissemination of materials by means of handing out free copies, selling or offering copies for sale, accepting donations for copies, or posting or displaying copies.
Official School Publications: means school newspapers, yearbooks, website, material produced in communication, journalism or other writing classes, as a part of the curriculum.
Obscene to minors: means (1) The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the material, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest of minors of the age to whom distribution is requested; (2) The material depicts or describes, in a manner that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community concerning how such conduct should be presented to minors of the age to whom distribution is requested; or (3) The material, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors.
Minor: means any person under the age of eighteen (18).
Material and substantial disruption of normal school activities: means (1) Where the normal school activity is an educational program of the school district for which student attendance is compulsory, “material and substantial disruption” is defined as any disruption which interferes with or impedes the implementation of that program. (2) Where the normal school activity is voluntary in nature (including without limitation, school athletic events, school plays and concerts, and lunch periods) “material and substantial disruption” is defined as student rioting, unlawful seizures of property, conduct inappropriate to the event, participation in a school boycott, demonstration, sit-in, stand-in, walk-out, or other related forms of activity.
In order for expression to be considered disruptive, there must exist specific facts upon which the likelihood of disruption can be forecast, including past experience in the school, current events influencing student activities and behavior, and instances of actual or threatened disruption relating to the written material in question.
School Activities: means any activities of students sponsored by the school including, but not limited to, classroom work, library activities, physical education classes, official assemblies and other similar gatherings, school athletic contests, band concerts, school plays and other theatrical productions, and in-school lunch periods.
Libelous: is a false and unprivileged statement about a specific individual that tends to harm the individual’s reputation in the community.
Expression in an official school publication or school-sponsored activity is prohibited when the material:
1. Is obscene to minors;
2. Is libelous or slanderous;
3. Advertises or promotes any product or service not permitted for minors by law;
4. Encourages students to commit illegal acts or violate school regulation or substantially disrupts the orderly operation of school or school activities;
5. Expresses or advocates sexual, racial or religious harassment or violence or prejudice;
6. Is distributed or displayed in violation of time, place and manner regulations.
Expression in an official school publication or school-sponsored activity is subject to editorial control by the school district over the style and content as long as the school district’s actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. These may include, but are not limited to the following:
1. Assuring that participants learn whatever lessons the activity is designed to teach;
2. Assuring that readers or listeners are not exposed to material that may be inappropriate for their level of maturity;
3. Assuring that the views of the individual speaker are not erroneously attributed to the school district or School Committee;
4. Assuring that the school or the School Department is not associated with any position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy;
5. Assuring that the sponsored student speech cannot reasonably be perceived to advocate conduct otherwise inconsistent with the shared values of a civilized social order;
6. Assuring that the school is not associated with expression that is, for example, ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences.
Time, Place and Manner of Distribution
Students shall be permitted to distribute written materials at school as follows:
Time: Distribution shall be limited to the hours before the school day begins, during lunch hour and after school is dismissed.
Place: Written materials may be distributed in locations so as not to interfere with the normal flow of traffic within the school hallways, walkways, entry ways and parking lots. Distribution shall not impede entrance to or exit from any school premises in any way.
Manner: No one shall induce or coerce a student or staff member to accept a student publication.
LEGAL REFERENCE: Hazelwood School District, et al. v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)