angrycatBecause I sat at the helm of my community college and university newspapers once upon a time, stuff like this tends to grind my gears.

According to the Orange County Register, the principal of Orange High School in Orange, Calif., stopped the distribution of a student magazine because it had a “gang-looking” tattoo on the cover and because of a Top 10 list of things to do before graduation that included a clothing-optional swim in the school pool.

I understand where maybe the Top 10 list could be seen as encouraging students to break school rules. But even when students volunteered to tear out those pages the principal still refused distribution because of the tattoo.

Was the principal wrong in doing this? I think so. But what do the legal guys have to say?

From the O.C. Register’s article :

“California has the strongest set of laws protecting student speech and student publications in the nation, said Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

State law allows school administrators to restrict student speech that is obscene, libelous or slanderous. They can also prohibit material that creates a ‘clear and present danger’ of inciting students to break the law, violate school regulations, or cause ‘substantial disruption’ of school operations.

That may apply to the Top Ten list, with its suggestions to skinny dip and skip school. But LoMonte said a judge might consider the list to be nothing more than satire, and therefore no real threat to school operations.

The tattoo cover and story appear to be ‘well within the protection’ of California law, LoMonte said. The magazine, he said, was ‘not promoting tattooing any more than informing people about a rash of fires is promoting arson.’ “

Luckily for the students, they have a wealth of resources now if they still want to continue publication, albeit in another medium.

If I were in the student editors’ position, as a “frak you” to the principal, I would take the PDFs for the magazine and publish them online through a site like Issuu, then invite members of the school community to comment on it through Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.

It won’t erase what the principal did, but at least the students would get a chance to showcase their work.

Read the story and take a look at photos of the magazine here.

The case is also highlighted at the The Student Press Law Center, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the California First Amendment Coalition and the Citizen Media Law Project.

Photo: zalgon / Flickr

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