-- School officials in a district where the policy is to allow students freedom of speech confiscated thousands of copies of the high school newspaper after learning it contained an article in which students talked about drinking alcohol at a party.
Student editors said that the article quoted the daughter of a school board member saying she had consumed alcohol, and that they believe that was the reason about 4,500 copies of the biweekly Wooster Blade were seized Thursday.
Superintendent David Estrop said the newspapers were taken on the advice of lawyers who said the publication had inaccuracies and was potentially libelous.
At least two students said they were misquoted with statements that "attributed to them acts of misconduct and potentially acts of criminal behavior," Estrop said today.
James Jackson, the principal at Wooster High School, said the papers were taken after a teacher told him about a possible confidentiality problem with the article.
Federal law forbids naming students who face disciplinary action without parents' permission, and at least one student reported having been misquoted, Jackson said. Violating privacy rights could leave the school open to lawsuits, he said.
The student journalists disagreed and called the Student Press Law Center.
Mike Hiestand, an attorney for the Arlington-based center, said he reviewed the reporting at the student editors' request and saw nothing in the Blade that violated libel laws.
"It's very good reporting," Hiestand said. "It's just another one of those cases of school officials wanting nothing but happy news in the newspaper and abusing their authority."
According to a policy under "Student Publication Rights" on the Wooster City School District's Web site, an "unfettered student press" is essential, and "student journalists shall be afforded protection against prior review and/or censorship."
It says that freedom does not extend to material that is obscene or defamatory, or would disrupt school activities.
"I feel very privileged to have an open forum policy, but personally I am disappointed that it has been violated," said Darcy Draudt, 17, a senior and editor of the Wooster Blade.
Whether school administrators can insist on prior review of a student publication has been a hot issue in high school journalism since 1988, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that limits can be set on the free-press rights of high school students.
The case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, concerned students at a suburban St. Louis high school whose principal prevented them from publishing certain articles.
The Wooster newspaper's adviser normally reviews the paper but was called away last week on a family matter, Estrop said.