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Idaho Board's Policy Will'Result in a Brag Sheet'

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The question of who controls the content of student newspapers can be a thorny one for even the smallest school districts.

In the small community of Lapwai near Lewiston, Idaho, the school board's decision last spring to approve a policy limiting students' freedom to publish stories on "nonschool topics" has prompted a sharp editorial attack in the Lewiston Tribune.

The Sept. 27 editorial said, in part:

"The guidelines for publication of a newspaper at Lapwai High School, if followed to the letter, will not result in a newspaper. They will result in a brag sheet that reflects favorably on the school board and the administration.

"And of course, that is exactly what any banana republic prima donna insists upon. Lapwai High School Principal Michael Oke and the nervous authoritarians on the school board who have drawn up these guidelines don't want the high school to have a newspaper. An actual newspaper, functioning in the normal fashion, would give them acid indigestion. ...

"Strictly speaking, under those guidelines, you can report that student grade points are up. But you can't report it when they are down. ...

"You can report that some students have decided to become priests but you can't report that there is a high pregnancy rate in the student body.

"You can write perfunctory arti4cles saluting the 200th anniversary of the Constitution but you can't actually exercise your rights under the document. ..."

According to the policy, students can report on nonschool topics provided that they do not "reflect negatively upon the school, its students, or staff members" or "offend or infringe upon the religious or moral standards of the readers."

Mr. Oke, the high school's principal, said last week that the policy was drafted because administrators and board members "had some big concerns about the tenor of some of the news items that were beginning to surface" in the monthly student publication. One such report, Mr. Oke said, concerned sexual practices among students.

"The only restriction is on nonschool news," he said. "On items that don't relate to school activities, we exercise some control over the content." He cited as examples stories that do not relate to the school directly, its curriculum, or academic issues.

The policy states, Mr. Oke pointed out, that the newspaper exists to provide a laboratory experience for journalism students and thus functions as part of the school's curriculum--the same position advanced by the Hazelwood, Mo., school board in arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

The local newspaper's editorial, he added, was written "strictly to stir up controversy."

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