523 R1 – Official Student Publications Regulation
The following definitions are provided to assist in the interpretation of this Regulation.
1. An “official school publication” is any curricular or co-curricular student publication or broadcast, including but not limited to newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, television, radio or cable television programs produced in curricular or co-curricular journalism or journalism-related activities under the sponsorship of the District and distributed or disseminated to the student body either free or for a fee.
2. “Obscene material” means that which the average person, applying community standards, finds as a whole to appeal to a minor’s prurient interest in sex, and depicts or describes in an offensive way sexual conduct or sexual acts, and which lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. For purposes of an audience of students, forms of expression that are vulgar, indecent, lewd, or sexually explicit may be considered obscene.
3. “Libelous” statements are false, unprivileged statements the average reader would interpret as statements of fact and which damage the reputation of an individual or business.
4. “Encourage” means to spur on, stimulate, or foster. Mere factual reporting of controversial issues shall not be considered encouragement.
5. “Material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school” means student actions or behaviors that can reasonably be believed or feared to significantly interrupt school activities or intrude unreasonably in school affairs. The phrase also includes interference with the rights of others. Examples that might reasonably lead to the forecast of material and substantial disruption include, but are not limited to, student violence or rioting; unlawful seizures of property; vandalism to or destruction of property; boycotts, sit-ins, walk-outs or related activities at school.
The undifferentiated fear or apprehension of a potential disturbance is not adequate justification for suppressing student expression; the ability to show substantial facts that reasonably support a forecast of likely disruption is required. Past experience under similar circumstances, current events influencing student activities and behavior, and instances of actual or threatened disruption relating to the material in question may be considered.
B. PRIOR RESTRAINT OF MATERIAL PREPARED FOR AN OFFICIAL SCHOOL PUBLICATION.
No student shall publish in an official school publication material which is obscene, libelous, or encourages students to commit unlawful acts, violate school rules, cause the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school, or infringe on the rights of others.
C. FAIR COMMENT RULE.
Student journalists are entitled to the protection of the “fair comment rule,” which provides that all persons are free to express opinions on matters of common interest. Students are free to comment responsibly on school policies or the performance of school administrators, teachers, or employees, so long as the comments or criticisms are statements of opinion and are not libelous. However, student journalists are not entitled to a wholesale defamation exemption under the fair comment rule merely by including the disclaimer “In my opinion” or a similar phrase in conjunction with a false and damaging statement.
Public officials or “public figures” who claim to be libeled must prove the student journalist made false statements with actual malice, i.e., that the journalist knew the statement was false or acted recklessly in failing to verify the statement. School officials are generally deemed public figures in student publications concerning school-related activities. School employees may or may not be public figures; the determination often depends on the involvement of the employee in issues of public importance.
Private persons, those not in the public eye, must show that a statement was made negligently, i.e., that the journalist failed to exercise reasonable care in preparing the article, to prove libel.
If, in the opinion of the student editor, student editorial staff, faculty adviser, or school official, material proposed for publication may fall within the prohibitions of Section B of this Regulation, legal advice should be sought.
E. APPEAL PROCEDURE.
Students who believe they have been unreasonably restricted in the exercise of their freedom of expression in official student publications have the right to appeal the decision utilizing the Student Complaint Procedure of Code 536.
F. COMPLAINT PROCEDURE.
Any person aggrieved by the content of official student publications is directed to use the complaint procedure of Code 229.
G. RESPONSIBILITIES OF STUDENT JOURNALISTS.
Student journalists who participate in official school publications are responsible for the content of those publications. Student journalists should at all times strive to achieve professional standards of accuracy, fairness, objectivity and thoroughness in each and every aspect of the publication. Student journalists should also strive to achieve professional standards of grammar, usage, punctuation and spelling, which are important to the clarity and accuracy of the publication.
H. RESPONSIBILITIES OF FACULTY ADVISERS.
Schools possess a substantial educational interest in teaching student writers journalistic skills. Journalism advisers shall supervise student writers to maintain professional standards of English and journalism and to comply with Iowa law, including the restrictions against unlawful speech in Iowa Code Section 280.22.
Student expression in official school publications shall not be deemed to be an expression of school policy. The public school district and school employees or officials shall not be liable in any civil or criminal action for any student expression made or published by students, unless the school employees or officials have interfered with or altered the content of the student’s speech or expression, and then only to the extent of the interference or alteration of the speech or expression. Student journalists must recognize that with editorial control comes responsibility for the content of the publication.
Adopted: March 13, 2000
URBANDALE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF DIRECTORS