STUDENT PRESS LAW UPDATE, 1986
THE MT. SAC CASE - The lawsuit that challenged administratively imposed advertising regulations at Mt. San Antonio College is apparently dead. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order to keep the Mt. SAC administration from enforcing a ban on alcoholic beverage, tobacco and x-rated movie advertising. The judge's rationale: the college district was really the publisher of the student newspaper and therefore entitled to set advertising policy. His ruling has not been appealed.
NOTE: As a preliminary ruling of a trial judge, this sets no precedent
for other cases. In fact, there have been a number of precedent-setting
appellate court decisions that said administrators could not control the
content of student newspapers. While most of those cases involved unofficial
newspapers, several courts have ruled that even official campus newspapers
are open forums for student expression, protected from administrative control
by the First Amendment. The question of who is the publisher (and therefore
entitled to control content) depends on the specific facts of the case.
THE HUMBOLDT STATE CASE - Another lawsuit that isn't likely to set any precedents is the Humboldt State case testing the state's ban on editorial endorsements by tax-funded newspapers. The student plaintiffs at Humboldt appear reluctant to pursue their lawsuit: several have already graduated, and the others will do so shortly. Their lawyer, who has been donating his time, has had difficulty getting them even to sit down with him and discuss the case.
The lawsuit arose when a Lumberjack editor was suspended for
endorsing candidates and ballot propositions. Both Title V of the California
Administrative Code (which applies to the CSU system) and the Education
Code prohibit the use of tax funds to support or oppose any candidate or
ballot proposition. These provisions have often been interpreted to forbid
unsigned editorials--but not letters to the editor or signed columns--endorsing
candidates in student newspapers.
THE SUPREME COURT AND STUDENT RIGHTS - The U.S. Supreme Court
has agreed to rule on Fraser v. Bethel School District, its first
student free expression case in a decade. Ominously, both the trial court
and the ninth circuit Court of Appeals (famous for its reversal rate at
the Supreme Court) held that the First Amendment was violated when Matthew
Fraser was suspended and forbidden to speak at his high school graduation
for giving a political campaign speech containing sexual innuendoes.
A KEY HIGH SCHOOL CASE - In a high school case that could profoundly
affect college press law in California, the state Court of Appeal will
soon decide Leeb v. Delong. This case is a test of the state law
allowing school officials to censor student newspapers for libel, obscenity
and potentially disruptive material (Educ. Code sec. 48907). However, it
also raises the broader issue of whether school officials may ever censor
official campus newspapers. The case began when a student editor at Rancho
Alamitos High School in Garden Grove attempted to publish an April Fool's
Day photo showing several female students (fully clothed) with a caption
saying they would be Playboy playmates. The paper was censored by
BYE-BYE BAGLEY-KEENE - The provision of the Bagley-Keene Act (formerly the State Agency Open Meeting Act) requiring community and four-year college student governments to hold open meetings (Government Code sec. 11121.5) was repealed in 1984, and no new law was enacted to take its place for community colleges. A new law (Educ. Code sec. 89920) was enacted requiring CSU student governments to hold open meetings, but it does not apply to two-year colleges.
The Brown Act requires community college governing boards and their
advisory bodies to hold open meetings; it is possible that a court
might find a student government to be an advisory body within the meaning
of the Brown Act. An attorney general's opinion already holds that faculty
senates are advisory bodies subject to the Brown Act (66 Ops. Atty. Gen.