Education Laws Cited in Attack on Student Press

NEWS from the Coalition

Education Law Cited in Attack on Student Press

from Adam Goldstein, New Media Legal Fellow at the Student Press Law Center:

There’s a censorship situation brewing in Utah, and if you’re in the state,
you may want to contact the Utah State Office of Education, the state
Attorney General’s office, and/or the high school involved to express your
thoughts.

Essentially, a parent of a student at Lone Peak High School–who runs a
"family values" not-for-profit–has asked the state Attorney General and the
State Office of Education to "look into" whether three articles broke state
laws limiting the content of sex education classes.

The articles that triggered the complaint are a pro/con pair of opinion
pieces on the school’s new Gay-Straight Alliance Club (with the con opinion
written by the complaining parent’s daughter) and one on the HPV vaccine
(written by the same author of the pro-GSA opinion).

The press release from this organization, the Standard of Liberty, states
that the organization believes these articles violated the following state
laws:

"The Utah FERPA law (Utah Code 53A-13-301 & 302) forbids schools from
allowing any activity which results in students revealing information
concerning their sexual behavior, orientation or attitudes. Utah Education
law (Utah Code 53A-13-101) requires that schools stress the importance of
abstinence from all sexual activity before marriage and fidelity after
marriage, and also forbids advocacy of homosexuality and of sexual activity
outside of marriage."

(See the full release online
Section 53A-13-302 and the Federal Family Educational Rights and
Privacy Act
and related provisions under 20 U.S.C. 1232 (g) and (h), in the
administration and operation of all public school programs, regardless of
the source of funding.

In other words, 301 and 302 don’t prohibit students from releasing
information about themselves, let alone compel the school to prohibit students from doing so. Just like its federal counterpart, Utah’s FERPA
limits the actions of school employees and agents–and no one else.

Similarly, 53A-13-101 prohibits a school board from adopting curricular
materials that instruct in "the advocacy of homosexuality." It doesn’t apply
to the actions of anyone but the school board; it doesn’t apply in any
context but in the adoption of instructional materials; and even in that
context, it doesn’t prohibit neutral discussion of homosexuality.

The Standard of Liberty press release quotes the group’s founder/parent:

Said Graham, “Sex activists are targeting kids. They know that high
school newspapers can be highly effective carriers of anti-parent, pro-sex
propaganda. School administrators are either complicit or clueless. The
kids’ articles should be about sports, music, dances, academics, noise in
the halls and lunch room menus. What in the world are school administrators
thinking allowing twisted articles about homosexuality, genital warts and
infections, rape, and promiscuity for minors from age 14 to read as facts?
They seem to be purposely subverting wholesomeness, traditional morality,
and parents’ rights.[...}"

According to the Web site of the student newspaper in question, The Lone
Peak Crusader, the paper "has been established as a forum for student
expression." The forum statement is the most prominent item on the site,
save for the masthead. See http:/www.lonepeak.alpinedistrict.org/Crusader/ .

The view of the Student Press Law Center is that the complaining parent's
position it utterly without merit. The actions of the newspaper do not
violate the laws cited (or any other laws of which I am aware), nor could
anything printed in the school paper ever violate laws that limit the
actions of school officials. Furthermore, as the newspaper has been
established as a forum for student expression, the editors have the right to
determine the appropriate content within the bounds of the First Amendment.

More importantly, this call for censorship violates basic notions of
education and poses a threat to the continued practice of journalism in high
schools in Utah. It is pedagogically unsound for anyone to seek to restrain
debate and discussion in schools on ideological grounds, regardless of the
ideology behind that effort. Encouraging state agents, such as public school
employees, to censor student newspapers would be a serious blow to the
practice and understanding of journalism in those schools.

While the students are in the right, it is important that those who oppose
this type of censorship by intimidation speak out in support of free
expression. In a vacuum, a state employee seeking to placate a complaining
parent may not immediately consider the civil rights of the students. If
you're in Utah, contacting the State Office of Education, Attorney General's
office, and the school can help avoid any rash reactions.

Get Involved

Contact these individuals and groups to voice your support of free speech in Utah schools:

Utah State Office of Education
250 East 500 South
P O Box 144200
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-4200
801-538-7500
http://attorneygeneral.utah.gov/

Dr. Chip Koop, Principal
Lone Peak High School
10189 N. 4800 W.
Highland, UT 84003
(801) 763-7050
http://www.lonepeak.alpinedistrict.org

Resources

From the Daily Herald (Utah): "Can students talk about sex?"

A parent and president of a local family values organization says Highland’s
Lone Peak High School broke the law when the school newspaper published
articles dealing with sex.

Stephen Graham, president of the Standard of Liberty Foundation, has asked
the State Office of Education and the state Attorney General’s Office to
look into three articles that have appeared in The Lone Peak Crusader.

» Click here for the full story

From the Deseret News: "School paper is accused of breaking law"

HIGHLAND – Parents of a Lone Peak High School student are accusing the
school newspaper of breaking Utah’s privacy and sex education laws.

Stephen Graham, a Utah County man who also is the head of a nonprofit
organization that advocates conservative ideas and traditional values, sent
letters to the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah State Office of
Education about pieces in the publication he found questionable.

» Click here for the full story