Victory

Allow Megan Pellow to publish an article pertaining to same-sex marriage in the school newspaper without the use of unnecessary censorship.

This petition made change with 2,489 supporters!


Synopsis: 

Public high schools do not have constitutional rights to limit a student’s freedom of expression in regards to newspaper publications if the paper is classified as “public forum” and run entirely by students. The “Cougar Chronicle” at New Prairie High School in New Carlisle, Indiana is a paper that is created entirely by students and monitored by a single school official. Anyone observing the class for a mere half hour could easily see that this is a paper written and created entirely by students and is most definitely a public forum, and therefore not a platform which can be censored by school officials. For the November issue of the Chronicle, senior Megan Pellow wrote an article about the recent legalization of gay marriage in her home state of Indiana. In the article, which was classified as an opinion piece, Pellow interviewed and quoted 3 students and asked for their unedited and honest opinions of the state’s new legislation. Two students expressed their joy and support in the wake of the new legislation. A male student expressed his dislike of the new law, stating that he didn’t understand why LGBT individuals felt the need to flaunt their sexuality. The article represented the opinions of students both for and against the new law. All the students that were interviewed knew they were being interviewed for the paper and freely gave consent for their quotes to be published. Realizing that in the incredibly conservative state of Indiana, an article discussing gay marriage and LGBT rights may be a hot-button issue, the monitor decided to take the article to the administration, including the Principal, Mr. Dettinger. Not only did he ask Pellow to remove the senior male’s quote expressing his opposition towards LGBT rights and the legalization of gay marriage, he told her that all quotes remaining would have to be cited as either anonymous or as an “unnamed student”. He also requested that Pellow and the three other students have a meeting in his office to discuss why the quotes should be removed or cited anonymously, which is a direct misuse of power on the part of school official. Not only are Mr. Dettinger’s demands of Pellow unreasonable, they are illegal under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Pellow holds the right to freedom of expression in a public forum. Whether or not an administrator agrees with a student’s viewpoint is not relevant. The Chronicle is a public forum that allows students to express their opinions and the opinions of others. It is not a forum in which students seek to rationalize and support the opinions of the administration, within both the school and the district. There is no justification for not allowing Pellow to publish her article as it is. She has not broken any laws or school rules by writing this article and wishing to publish it. The LGBT community is not going anywhere. The legalization of gay marriage in Indiana is a permanent and unchanging decision. Over 60% of the country has legalized same-sex unions. Change is coming, and we cannot allow fear and disapproval rule the lives of students, LGBT and otherwise. Every student has the right to freedom of expression without censorship from administrators. Pellow’s article should be published in its original form because there is no logical or legal reason for it not to be. 

 

 

The Full Story:

“As the United States Supreme Court said in 1969, "It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.” – splc.org

 

            School newspapers have always been a place where students can express themselves and discuss topics they’re passionate about. From civil rights to modern technology to sports, fashion, and hobbies, students have always been able to write what’s on their mind in an unbiased and public forum. Public high schools, specifically, do not have constitutional rights to limit a student’s freedom of expression in regards to newspaper publications. The ruling of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, stating that school officials can censor certain publications, only applies to schools that do not hold their newspapers as “public forums”. This is rare, as most (if not all) high school newspapers are now created, written, and edited entirely by students.

            The “Cougar Chronicle” at New Prairie High School in New Carlisle, Indiana is a paper that is created entirely by the class’s 19 students and monitored by a single adviser. The editor of the paper leads the class through the entire process, from brainstorming to article assignments to editing to layout and finally, publication. Anyone observing the class for a mere half hour could easily see that this is a paper written and created entirely by students and is most definitely a public forum, and therefore not a platform which can be censored by school officials.

            For the November issue of the Chronicle, senior Megan Pellow wrote an article about the recent legalization of gay marriage in her home state of Indiana. In the article, which was classified as an opinion piece, Pellow interviewed and quoted 3 students and asked for their unedited and honest opinions of the state’s new legislation. One student, an openly gay sophomore, expressed his excitement over being able to get married in his home state if he so chooses. Another student, a straight female and friend of several openly LGBT students at NPHS, stated that she was glad her friends finally had the same legal rights as she did. Finally, a heterosexual male sophomore on the football team expressed his dislike of the new law, stating that he didn’t understand why LGBT individuals felt the need to flaunt their sexuality and that he found gay people to be “weird”. The article represented the opinions of students both for and against the new law. All the students that were interviewed knew they were being interviewed for the paper and freely gave consent for their quotes to be published. Following an initial edit, the parents of the LGBT sophomore student were contacted to ensure their approval that their son’s quote be published. This was done in an attempt to protect the student and avoid any legal issues, as the student was a minor. NPHS has a long history of bullying issues, especially surrounding LGBT issues, so it was a logical move on the part of Pellow and the adviser to ensure the student had the full support of both the Chronicle’s staff and his parents.

            Realizing that in the incredibly conservative state of Indiana, an article discussing gay marriage and LGBT rights may be a hot-button issue, the adviser decided to take the article to the Vice Principal of NPHS and have her review it. The Vice Principal stated that the article touched on an “important issue”, and that it was “something that needed to be talked about”. Pellow and the adviser became hopeful that the article would be published.

            On November 3, 2014, Pellow’s article was taken to the Principal of NPHS, Mr. Dettinger, for a final review before its intended publication on Friday morning. However, this is where things went wrong.

            Not only did he ask Pellow to remove the heterosexual sophomore male’s quote expressing his opposition towards LGBT rights and the legalization of gay marriage, he told her that all quotes remaining would have to be cited as either anonymous or as an “unnamed student”. His reasoning was that this would incite bullying on the part of students that read and disagreed with what the quoted students expressed in the article. However, all students not only freely gave Pellow consent to publish their quotes, they expressed their opinions passionately and openly to Pellow during the time of the interview. It is unlikely that publishing the students’ quotes would incite bullying within the student body. It is unlikely that any of the students would feel as if any of the 3 students’ quotes were a personal attack on them. It is much more likely that students would identify with either one viewpoint or another and express their support of the person they agree with. It is clear that these students hold their opinions solidly and have expressed them prior to the interview. They are all confident and expressive students that are not only unlikely to be victims of bullying but would be fully capable of standing up to their opposition to defend themselves. Mr. Dettinger’s concerns regarding bullying within the student body should not be held as a concept deserving of more protection than Pellow’s first amendment rights and freedom of expression under the Constitution.

            Mr. Dettinger also proposed that he, Pellow, and the three quoted students have a private meeting in his office to discuss why the quotes should either be removed or cited anonymously. No school official holds the power under the constitution to censor students’ publications as long as they are published in a public forum. No school official holds the right to use their influence to eliminate a student’s freedom of speech. It is not only unreasonable for Mr. Dettinger to request this of Pellow and the students, it is not entirely legal and a direct misuse of administrative power.

            Not only are Mr. Dettinger’s demands of Pellow unreasonable, they are illegal under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Pellow holds the right to freedom of expression in a public forum, which is what the Chronicle has been established as for the last several years. With minimal contribution by the administration, this student-run publication serves as a platform for students such as Pellow to express their own opinions as well as the opinions of their fellow students. If a student freely gives consent to a student journalist to publish their quote, and knew at the time of the interview that every word they said was on the record and up for publication, there is no legal reason to remove the names or the quotes from the article. Pellow reserves the right to keep the names in the article and publish the article in its original form.

            Mr. Dettinger’s demands are in direct violation of Pellow’s first amendment rights. In past years, several controversial articles have been pulled from the paper, including one about the Westboro Baptist Church protests. The reasoning behind this was that it was a negative representation of religion and would put their religion in a bad light. The author of the article decided not to fight the administration’s decision and the article was never published. Not only was this in direct violation of this student’s constitutional rights, it was an unwarranted use of power on the part of the NPHS administration.

            Whether or not an administrator agrees with a student’s viewpoint is not relevant. The Chronicle is a public forum that allows students to express their opinions and the opinions of others. It is not a forum in which students seek to rationalize and support the opinions of the administration, within both the school and the district. Forcing Pellow to remove the names of all the students and directly name the student expressing disdain for the new law is unreasonable, irrational, and illegal. There is no legal justification for not allowing Pellow to publish her article as it is.

            Pellow’s article is not one that should be censored by the administration. She has not broken any laws or school rules by writing this article and wishing to publish it. It is clear that the motivation behind censoring this article is driven by a desire to either satisfy higher administration at a district level or prevent students from discussing matters that the administration would rather not acknowledge.

 

            The LGBT community is not going anywhere. The legalization of gay marriage in Indiana is a permanent and unchanging decision. Over 60% of the country has legalized same-sex unions. Change is coming, and we cannot allow fear and disapproval rule the lives of students, LGBT and otherwise. Every student has the right to freedom of expression without censorship from administrators. Pellow’s article should be published in its original form because there is no logical or legal reason for it not to be.  

Video Explanation: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmVx-hnLdWw&feature=youtu.be



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