Seattle Public Schools Officials Retract Proposal That Raised Censorship Concerns

Seattle Public Schools officials reversed a proposal that would have given school principals oversight over school newspapers following days of backlash from the community.

Under the proposal, originally slated for a Dec. 7 vote, "the school district has the authority to censure school-sponsored speech and other expressive activities bearing the imprimatur of the school (including student publications if reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical concern and the censorship is viewpoint neutral.)"

The move to crack down on school publications came after a libel lawsuit that stemmed from the district's long-standing hands-off approach to free speech, according to the Student Press Law Center.

In a statement Monday, interim Superintendent Susan Enfield said district officials will revisit the policy at a later date to "ensure that it better reflects the community's values," as community members were worried that the policy violates students' rights to free speech.

"She felt strongly that it's important that we give our students a chance to fully understand the rights and responsibilities that come along with freedom of the press, and that we needed to have a policy that reflected that," Enfield's spokesperson Teresa Wippel told KUOW.

Student leaders are happy with the decision so far.

"The district made the right decision," Kate Clark and Katie Kennedy, two editors of the Ballard High School newspaper, wrote in an email to The Seattle Times. "We plan to continue exercising our freedom of expression as provided by the current policy."

Not all school districts facing issues of potential censorship had resolutions as swift as Seattle's. In August, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Camdenton R-III School District in Missouri for using software that allegedly filters websites advocating for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Last month, youth bible club Owasso Kids for Christ filed suit against Oklahoma's Owasso Public Schools, claiming the district has violated the group's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by not permitting the students to promote their events at school through materials like flyers.