ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Utica Community Schools

April 07, 2003

DETROIT — Challenging Utica High School for censoring a school-sponsored newspaper article, the ACLU of Michigan has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the student journalist whose First Amendment rights have been violated. The suit was filed in Federal District Court on April 4, 2003, and will be heard by Judge George E. Woods.

Katherine Dean, a seventeen year old senior at Utica High School, is currently the managing editor of the Arrow, the school paper. Last year, Katy wrote an article for the paper about a lawsuit filed against Utica Community Schools by a Shelby Township resident. The resident lived next to the school district’s bus garage, and complained that diesel fumes from idling busses had caused him to become ill. The subject of the article was approved by a faculty advisor, but eventually censored by the school principal.

“I wrote a good, thoroughly researched article and tried to present both sides of the story,” said Katy. “When school officials wouldn’t talk about the case, I didn’t think it meant that they wouldn’t let me talk about it."

Even though the story was approved by the faculty advisor, one day before the paper was to go to the printer, the principal ordered that the story be stricken from the publication and the Arrow went to press without it.

“It appears that the only reason that Katy’s article was censored is that it might embarrass the school district,” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “It is not the normal practice of this principal to review a student’s writing for the newspaper and there is no legitimate educational reason for the censorship,” Moss added.

In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that school officials may censor articles in school-sponsored newspapers only if they have a "legitimate pedagogical reason."

"This is an important case to illustrate that student journalists don't forfeit their First Amendment rights when they write for school newspapers," said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU. "Katy Dean's article met high journalistic standards and school officials had no valid educational reason to prevent her from writing about a lawsuit against the school district."

Dean is represented by Andrew Nickelhoff, an ACLU cooperating attorney, and Steinberg.

Read the complaint online, go to: aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/DEANComplaint.pdf

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