School seen as choking free speech

By Richard Heck
November 14, 1999
Athens Messenger: front page

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If Nelsonville-York City School officials carry out a pledge to suspend any students attempting a second edition of a controversial newspaper, the school district likely would face a loss in the courts, an Ohio State University College of Law professor said Friday.

Professor David Goldberger made that pronouncement prior to Friday’s annual dinner sponsored by the Southeast Ohio Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“If it does end up in court, the school district will be big losers and pay a high amount in legal fees,” Goldberger told reporters prior to the dinner and his speech at the Athens Senior Citizens Center.

Goldberger was asked to speak to the chapter about the free speech rights of students, and met some of the students involved with the Nelsonville publication.

According to Goldberger, the situation is similar to those in other areas of the country, where “radical” parent groups and autocratic administrators try to control the speech of students.

Those groups, not always conservative parents, are trying to take control of what is being said and taught in public schools, a job which should be left up to school boards, Goldberger said.

Although parents have a right tpo have a say in how public schools are run, Goldberger said, control should be left up to the school board and not a minority group of parents or administrators.

And when school boards do not do their job to protect the free speech rights of students, the job falls to the courts, which Goldberger said are doing a good job of enforcing the First Amendment.

“Courts do a good job most of the time and sometimes not such a good job,” he said.

But court enforcement of free speech is better than lines being drawn by administrators or parents who believe they know better than the school system, Goldberger said.

Goldberger admitted that messages of hate and violence are not necessarily protected speech, and students can be legitimately penalized for such messages.

Briefed about the Nelsonville situation, Goldberger said that it appears to be a case of an administration not approving of what the alternative publication advocates, and threats to suspend students who want to continue their publication are wrong.

“In Nelsonville, the administrator is saying shut up or you will be shut up,” Goldberger said.

In Nelsonville, Goldberger said, the administrator that opposed the publication has forced peopte to take sides and divided the community.

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