Student Publications and Code Model



The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits the adoption of any law restricting freedom of speech or of the press. The United States Supreme Court has held that school districts retain authority over official student publications. In California, our Legislature has adopted Education Code section 48907 that extends to students certain rights of freedom of expression beyond those that the United States Supreme Court has found to be required by the First Amendment. The ______________ School District is required by law and is committed by policy to respect and protect the rights of students conferred by state law.

I. Statement of Policy

The governing board of the ______________ School District authorizes the establishment of official publications at each school within the district, in which students may exercise freedom of expression and of the press within the limits provided by law. Under the guidance of advisers and teachers assigned by each school, students are to be encouraged to learn and practice the highest standards of journalism, to appreciate the power and responsibility of a free press, and to experience cooperation and teamwork in the collaborative efforts required to produce newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, and other publications.

The following guidelines are adopted to assist all those involved in official student publications to know their roles and responsibilities and the principles that govern their activities. Nothing in these guidelines shall be interpreted to limit the rights of students conferred by Education Code section 48907. A copy of section 48907 is attached to and incorporated into this Publications Code. Teachers and advisers should be guided by the provisions of the law and these guidelines in understanding their official duties. Students should be aware that violation of these provisions may reflect on their academic achievement and may be subject to appropriate disciplinary actions.

II. Official Student Publications

1. Official student publications are defined as material produced by students in journalism, newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine, broadcast, or writing classes and distributed to the student body either free or for a fee. Other materials produced by students or distributed on campus without official sanction do not constitute official student publications and are outside the scope of this Code. Homepages and websites produced by the district or its schools and departments are publications of the district and do not constitute official student publications under this Code.

2. Responsibilities of Student Journalists. Students who work on official student publications determine the content of those publications and are responsible for that content. These students should:

a. Determine the content of the student publication.

b. Strive to produce a publication based upon professional standards of accuracy, objectivity, and fair play.

c. Review material to improve journalistic style, sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

d. Check and verify all facts and verify the accuracy of all quotations.

e. In the case of editorials or letters to the editor concerning controversial issues, determine the need for rebuttal comments and opinions and provide space if appropriate.

f. Be sensitive to the individual’s right to privacy and to ethnic, religious, and moral differences.

g. Avoid discrimination against or favoritism to any group.

h. Consult with teachers and advisers assigned to work with official publications about techniques and standards of journalism and about the proper interpretation and application of these guidelines.

3. Responsibilities of Publications Advisers. Teachers who advise student publications are responsible for supervising the productions of the student staff and should:

a. Be knowledgeable about the rights and responsibilities of student journalists and keep current with legal issues related to high school publications.

b. Instruct students in the professional journalism standards of accuracy, objectivity, and fair play as well as teaching journalistic style, including sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

c. Encourage students to do thorough research and verify the accuracy of their information.

d. Be sensitive to the individual’s right to privacy and to ethnic, religious, and moral differences.

e. Avoid discrimination against or favoritism to any group.

4. Adviser Rights and Responsibilities. Journalism adviser(s) within each school shall be responsible for supervising the production of the student staff and for instructing students in professional standards of English and journalism.

The adviser is responsible to know the standards required by Education Code section 48907 and these guidelines and, in particular, those forms of expression that are required by law to be prohibited. The adviser shall act affirmatively to prevent the publication of material that is prohibited by law or permitted to be restrained prior to publication.

III. Protected and Prohibited Speech

1. Protected Speech. Except where permitted by California law and theseguidelines, school officials shall not:

a. Ban speech solely because it is controversial, takes extreme, ‘’fringe,’‘ or minority opinions or is distasteful, unpopular, or unpleasant.

b. Ban the publication or distribution of material relating to sexual issues including, but not limited to, virginity, pregnancy, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS.

c. Prohibit criticism of the policies, practices, or performance of teachers, school officials, the school itself, or of any public officials.

d. Cut off funds to official student publications because of disagreement over editorial policy.

e. Ban the publication or distribution of materials written by non-students, except under standards generally applicable to all outside materials.

f. Prohibit the student publications from accepting advertising that is not otherwise prohibited by law or these guidelines.

g. Prohibit the endorsement of candidates for student office or for public office at any level.

2. Prohibited Speech. In accordance with California law and these guidelines, it shall be the duty of school officials to prohibit publication of the following material in official publications:

a. Libelous materials. Libelous statements are provably false and unprivileged statements that do injury to an individual’s or business’ reputation in the community. If the allegedly libeled party is a ‘’public figure’‘ or ‘’public official’‘ as defined below, then school officials must show that the false statement was published ‘’with actual malice,’‘ i.e., that the student journalists knew that the statement was false, or that they published it with reckless disregard for the truth and without trying to verify the truthfulness of the statement.

(1) A public official is a person who holds an elected or appointed public office.

(2) A public figure either seeks the public’s attention or is well known because of personal achievements.

(3) School employees are public officials or public figures in articles concerning their school-related activities. They are not public officials or public figures with regard to matters unrelated to their school-related activities.

(4) When an allegedly libelous statement concerns a private individual, school officials must show that the false statement was published willfully or negligently, i.e., the student journalist who wrote or published the statement has failed to exercise reasonably prudent care.

(5) Under the ‘’fair comment rule,’‘ a student is free to express an opinion on a matter of public interest. Specifically, a student may criticize school policy or performance of teachers, administrators, school officials, and other school employees.

b. Obscenity, according to the following current legal standards:

(1) The average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the publication is obscene, appealing to prurient interests.

(2) The publication depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct.

(3) The work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

c. Invasion of privacy. The right of privacy is the right to be free from the wrongful publicizing of a person’s private affairs and activities which are outside the realm of legitimate public concern. It is the right to live in solitude or seclusion, free from the public disclosure of private facts, without being placed in a false light in the public eye, and without having one’s name, likeness or photograph appropriated for commercial purposes.

d. Disruptive expression. Expression which so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.

(1) Disruption is defined as student rioting; or substantial seizures of or damage to public or private property; or substantial student participation in a boycott, sit-in, walk-out, or other related form of activity. Threats of violence are not materially disruptive without some act in furtherance of that threat or a reasonable belief and expectation that the author of the threat has the capability and intent of carrying through on that threat in a fashion not permitting acts other than suppression of speech to mitigate the threat in a timely manner. Material that merely stimulates heated discussion or debate does not constitute the type of disruption prohibited.

(2) For a student publication to be considered disruptive, specific facts must exist upon which one could reasonably forecast that a likelihood of immediate, substantial material disruption to normal school activity would occur if the material were distributed or has occurred as a result of the material’s distribution. Mere undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough; school administrators must be able to show substantial facts that reasonably support a forecast of likely disruption.

(3) In determining whether a student publication is disruptive, consideration must be given to the context of the distribution as well as the content of the material. In this regard, consideration should be given to past experience in the school with similar material, past experience in the school in dealing with and supervising the students in the school, current events influencing student attitudes and behavior, and whether there have been any instances of actual or threatened disruption prior to or contemporaneously with the dissemination of the student publication in question.

(4) School officials must protect advocates of unpopular viewpoints.

(5) ‘’Orderly operation of the school’‘ means educational student activity sponsored by the school and includes, by way of example and not by way of limitation, classroom work, library activities, physical education, official assemblies and other similar gatherings, school athletic contests, band concerts, school plays, and scheduled in-school lunch periods.

3. There shall be no prior restraint of material prepared for official student publications except insofar as the material violates prohibitions in section III.2.

Student publications, including broadcasts, may be reviewed by school administrators prior to distribution or withheld from distribution, to determine that they do not contain material that may be prohibited from publication. Since students have the right to determine the contents of their publications and the responsibility to adhere to professional journalism standards, the school and the school district assume no liability for the contents of any student publication. All student journalists should recognize that with editorial control comes the responsibility to make good decisions and to face the consequences of their decisions.

IV. Editorial Review and Appeals

1. The editors of student publications shall be responsible for the content and editing of material for their publications, subject only to restrictionsoutlined in section II.2.

2. If, in the opinion of the student editor, student editorial staff, faculty adviser or school administrator, material proposed for publication might fall into the category of prohibited material (specified in section III.2), the editor-in-chief, faculty adviser or administrator may request, through the school principal, the legal opinion of the District’s attorney. That opinion shall be provided as expeditiously as possible and, when rendered, shall be made available to both the principal and the requesting editor-in-chief or faculty adviser. Publication of the material in question shall be withheld until the opinion is received. If the opinion is that the material constitutes prohibited expression under section III.2, the faculty adviser or the principal shall have the authority and duty to prohibit its inclusion in any official student publication, subject to the outcome of any appeal under section IV.3, below. The editor-in-chief, without undue delay, shall contact and advise the author of the material of the reasons for withholding publication.

3. Appeals from the author must be made to the Editorial Review Board within three school days. As soon as possible, but no more than three school days later, the Editorial Review Board shall meet with the author to hear the appeal and render a decision. Within three school days following receipt of this decision, the author may appeal to the Superintendent. Within two school weeks, the Superintendent, or his designee, will review the written file and render a decision.

The Editorial Review Board shall consist of the student editorial staff, adviser, principal, publisher of the local paper, student activities director, and student body president, or their designated representatives. The Editorial Review Board may request, through the principal, the assistance of the District’s attorney in explaining any legal opinion that the publication of the material in question is prohibited.

4. In keeping with the California Shield Provision in article I, section 2(b) of the State Constitution, a student connected with student publications shall not be suspended, expelled, reprimanded, or disciplined in any way for refusing to disclose any unpublished information obtained or prepared in gathering, receiving, or processing of information for communication to the student body.

V. Local Publications Policy

Each school within this District may establish a Publications Policy in compliance with the District Publication Code to serve as a guideline for the orderly and appropriate operation of its publications.
Education Code § 48907.
Student exercise of freedom of speech and press

Students of the public schools shall have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press including, but not limited to, the use of bulletin boards, the distribution of printed materials or petitions, the wearing of buttons, badges, and other insignia, and the right of expression in official publications, whether or not such publications or other means of expression are supported financially by the school or by use of school facilities, except that expression shall be prohibited which is obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Also prohibited shall be material which so incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.

Each governing board of a school district and each county board of education shall adopt rules and regulations in the form of a written publications code, which shall include reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of conducting such activities within its respective jurisdiction.

Student editors of official school publications shall be responsible for assigning and editing the news, editorial, and feature content of their publications subject to the limitations of this section. However, it shall be the responsibility of a journalism adviser or advisers of student publications within each school to supervise the production of the student staff, to maintain professional standards of English and journalism, and to maintain the provisions of this section.

There shall be no prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications except insofar as it violates this section. School officials shall have the burden of showing justification without undue delay prior to any limitation of student expression under this section.

‘’Official school publications’‘ refers to material produced by students in the journalism, newspaper, yearbook, or writing classes and distributed to the student body either free or for a fee.

Nothing in this section shall prohibit or prevent any governing board of a school district from adopting otherwise valid rules and regulations relating to oral communication by students upon the premises of each school.