By Matt McClellan
February 4, 2004
The Post (Athens Ohio)
The room is empty, but Damon Krane is unruffled. He tells the reporters present that, since beginning this project in 1999, he has never had a huge turnout.
“We usually get a handful of kids who are really interested, and then they are the ones who get more of their peers involved,” he said.
Krane, an Athens resident, is a member of Free Stduent Press, an organization that wants public high school students to know about their constitutionally protected right to distribute their own publications at school.
The organization is holding six workshops to promote their recent report findings, which were that students’ press rights were missing from the student handbooks of the five public high school districts in Athens County.
“We’ve focused on the handbooks because they’re distributed to all students,” Krane said. “Also, four out of five of the schools have planners with their handbooks, so that students keep them around for a while.”
Ohio University freshman and Free Student Press member Chris Gohlke said he believes the handbooks would be an effective means of getting the message across.
“It’s the most cut and dry way because it’s in print,” he said.
Public schools are bound by law to respect the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, including students, and members of the organization believe the schools in Athens County are not doing a proper job of informing the students of their First Amendment rights, especially their right to have a fre press.
In its study, the organization states that none of the five handbooks “inform students of the limitations placed on the authority of administrators and teachers.”
John Abdella, principal of Trimble High School, does not believe placing First Amendment rights in the student handbook is the answer.
“You can get carried away with that stuff,” he said. “Our handbook is 20 pages long, but I’ll bet that 95 percent of the students don’t even read that.”
Students legally are allowed to distribute independently produced literature at public schools without being edited by administrators, as long as “there is no persuasive evidence that distributing such literature would cause a serious disruption of normal school activities or invade the rights of others,” according to the report.
The distribution is authorized by the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District. The “Tinker Standard” began in 1969, and protected all student speech until 1988, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided only non-school-sponsored publications would receive full protection. That case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, gave school officials editorial control of school-sponsored productions.
Krane got involved in students’ press rights after an independent paper at his high school was illegally banned by administrators.
“Looking back, we really took that principal at his word, not because we trusted him or liked him, but because for 12 years what he and other school officials said went,” he said.
Free Student Press will have workshops today at Nelsonville Public Library at 4 p.m., and The Plains Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Workshops also are scheduled for Thursday at Wells Public Library in Albany at 4 p.m. and Glouster Public Library at 6 p.m. For more information, contact Krane at 740-***-****.