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Student Newspaper's Right To Review R-Rated Movies Upheld

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May a school principal remove movie reviews from the student newspaper merely because the films in question were rated R? The New Jersey Supreme Court, agreeing with two lower courts, said no.

The case of Desilets v. Clearview Regional Board of Education concerned reviews of the movies "Mississippi Burning" and "Rain Man" submitted in 1989 to the student paper at Clearview Junior High School in Gloucester County. They were written by Brien Desilets, who was then an 8th grader.

The principal pulled the reviews solely because the films were rated R, for restricted, by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Patricia Desilets sued on behalf of her son, claiming the principal's action violated his First Amendment free press rights.

A state trial judge ruled the principal's action did not violate the First Amendment in light of a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that gave school officials greater latitude to restrict school-sponsored publications.

However, the judge found that the New Jersey constitution provided greater student-press protections than the First Amendment. The judge said the school could easily disassociate itself from reviews of R-rated movies by printing a disclaimer in the student paper.

A New Jersey appellate court also ruled for the student, but on federal constitutional grounds. The appellate court held that the principal overstepped the bounds of the 1989 decision because the pedagogical interests of the school do not extend beyond the "style and content" of an article.

The state supreme court affirmed that appellate court ruling on Sept. 22. The majority said the school district did not have a clear policy showing why a ban on R-rated movie reviews was needed. In fact, some teachers in its schools had discussed "Mississippi Burning" in class and recommended that students see it with their parents, the court said.

Creationism Reversal

A federal appeals court has reversed itself and ruled against a California teacher who challenged a requirement that he teach about evolution.

A federal district judge had dismissed the claims of John Peloza, a high school biology teacher in the Capistrano district. The teacher alleged he was being forced to teach evolution as fact and said he was reprimanded for discussing the creation theory of human origin.

In July, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Mr. Peloza was entitled to a trial to try to prove his claim that the district showed hostility to religion by requiring him to teach evolution.

However, in an unusual action, the panel withdrew that opinion last month and substituted a new ruling on Oct. 4. In it, the panel affirmed the dismissal of the teacher's lawsuit.

Neither side had requested the removal of the July opinion, and the court did not explain the about-face.

In its unsigned opinion in Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, the panel said that the concept of evolution is a scientific theory, not a religious belief.

Bible Distribution Approved

Gideon Bibles may be distributed to students on the sidewalk outside a public school, a federal judge in Nebraska has ruled.

The distribution of Bibles to public school students by Gideons International has drawn much litigation, with courts generally banning distribution that occurs inside school buildings or with the appearance of approval by school authorities.

On Aug. 31, U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf of Omaha ruled that allowing the Gideons to place Bibles on tables outside the school, where children are free to pick one up after school, passes constitutional muster.

In the Lancaster County district, the practice was challenged by a former school board member who resigned and removed his child from its schools in protest.

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Kopf said that the Bibles are not being distributed within the school building and that students are told they do not have to take one.

Harassment Suit Rejected

The question of whether school districts should be held liable when students sexually harass other students continues to percolate in the courts, but a federal judge has dismissed such a lawsuit in Georgia.

U.S. District Judge Wilbur D. Owens Jr. of Macon ruled that the Monroe County school district was not liable for a 5th-grade student's alleged harassment of a fellow student.

The complaint in Aurelia D. v. Monroe County Board of Education alleged that school officials reacted slowly to harassing conduct by a boy who repeatedly tried to touch a girl's breasts, used vulgar language, and rubbed his body against her.

Judge Owens dismissed the lawsuit on Aug. 29, ruling that the school did not have a special custodial relationship with its students and thus had no special duty to protect them from other students.

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