Clark County School Newspaper Challenges Board’s Policy

by Devin Katayama on September 5, 2011

A Clark County, Indiana school teacher says her principal is restricting students’ First Amendment rights by following a school board policy that she says is unconstitutional.

The Hypen is the name of Jeffersonville High School’s student-produced newspaper. It’s set to release its first edition on Friday. Over the summer, Principal James Sexton asked to review the paper prior to print. The directives are school board policy and give Sexton the right to have final say over what is published, he said.

Kelly Short is the teacher who oversees the students involved. Her attorney Dan Canon said Sexton’s guidelines that he chose to enforce are unconstitutional and would allow the principal to have power over what students write. Sexton disagrees.

“It’s been drummed as being a prior review censorship and it has nothing whatsoever to do with censorship,” he said.

Sexton said he is concerned with grammatical errors and the professional appearance of the paper and students can write what they want as long as it doesn’t harm student, teachers or the community. And he said previous statements of his needing three days to review the paper prior to publication is no longer an issue and that it was just something that was “thrown out there,” he said. Sexton further contends the Greater Clark County School Corporation Board of School Trustees says he can have final say over what goes public.

Both parties are awaiting action by the school board. Previous reports said that the item was scheduled for the last meeting, but was pulled. Superintendent Stephen Daeschner’s office said the issue is not on Tuesday’s agenda.

“We trust that whatever directive they issue are going to be constitutionally sound, but I can’t tell you much more than that. What I can tell you is that my client is not going to be part of enforcing an illegal policy with regard to the school newspaper,” said Canon.

School board counsel could not be reached for comment.

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