UPDATE: The Seattle School Board has (wisely) just announced that it will abandon the plan to censor student newspapers, saying that it's important that schools "uphold our practice of trusting our teachers to educate our students on the rights and responsibilities that come with freedom of expression and a free press."
A publication is generally only called a "student newspaper" when it's students who decide what goes in it.
It's unclear then what schools will start calling their student papers if the Seattle School Board gets its way.
The Seattle Times reports today that the board presented an idea to give student newspaper censorship powers to school administrators at a recent school board meeting.
The proposed policy would give principals the authority to review high-school newspapers before they are published and would allow them to stop publication if they deem material to be libelous, obscene or "not in keeping with the school's instructional mission and values," among other criteria.
The idea has prompted backlash from First-Amendment supporters and, of course, from student editors and writers of the papers.
The school board, meanwhile, is justifying the action by saying that school administrators are trying to make sure nothing "libelous or inflammatory" in printed.
This, of course, is ridiculous.
Student writers and editors are not only practicing free speech, they're learning what the business of being professional writers and editors is all about. And in that world writing libelous information can get you sued, but it's an outcome that happens after the fact.
No celebrity, politician or guy-off-the-street gets to edit the pages of a newspaper ahead of time to make sure there's no "libelous or inflammatory" language in there. But they do get to sue later if they can put together a strong enough case to prove they were victimized by a libelous story.
In the school district's case, the dynamic should be the similar. If students are knowingly printing libelous or false info, the school could punish them after they do so. It would be a way to both give school administrators power to act against misinformation while still keeping student publications independent and at the same time teaching about the repercussions of bad journalism.
A public school is a learning environment first and foremost, and these are minors, granted. But teaching censorship over responsibility is a lesson no one should be learning.