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ACLU legal advocacy helps restore press rights at Overland High

After two weeks of contention and media attention, the student paper at Overland High School is scheduled to hit the presses again soon, thanks to legal advocacy and communications support provided by the ACLU of Colorado and to two student journalists who were willing to stand up for their own First Amendment rights.

The Scout, published by students in the newspaper production class at Overland High School in the Cherry Creek School district, had been terminated by the school principal following his institution of a controversial prior review policy. The newspaper advisor had been removed from her job and student journalists were told they could only publish one more edition of the paper this year, a Senior Review edition, instead of the two or three issues additional they had planned.

But editors Lori Schafer and Jaclyn Gutierrez would not allow their newspaper to be quietly shuttered.

They contacted the Student Press Law Center and the ACLU of Colorado. Within days, they were telling their story before a room full of reporters in a press conference hosted at the offices of the ACLU. More print, online, television and radio interviews followed. Calls came from across the country. And, the school decision to terminate The Scout and fire its advisor had been reversed.
The prior review policy – akin to press censorship — was also rescinded.

Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado, said the matter played out as a real-life lesson on protecting and defending First Amendment rights and upholding the Colorado statue that grants press rights to journalists, including students.

What follows is an account of the press rights victory as reported by The Denver Post.

Overland High School paper will publish for now
By Mitchell Byars
The Denver Post

April 5, 2011

The principal of Overland High School has agreed to allow the student newspaper, the Overland Scout, to continue publishing issues until the end of the year without prior review.

Principal Leon Lundie made the announcement this morning at meeting with student editors Lori Schafer and Jaclyn Gutierrez, advisor Laura Sudik and school district representatives.

Schafer and Gutierrez said last month that Lundie shut down their paper and removed Sudik from her advisor post shortly after Schafer wrote an article that Lundie objected to.

School and district officials maintain that the situation was a misunderstanding and that the newspaper was never shut down. Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said that Lundie was unaware of a separate printing fund the district provides for printing newspapers and thought that they did not have the budget for further issues.

"I repeated to them I had expressed concern for whether they could produce additional editions in the time remaining, but did not tell them they could not publish the newspapers," Lundie said in a press release. "It is unfortunate that my statements were misunderstood. I agree that I probably could have communicated better and I take personal responsibility for that."

Lundie also rescinded his policy of prior review, which he had first implemented early this year. Sudik will remain the advisor for the rest of the year.

Schafer said that because they stopped working on further issues when this situation started, they are not sure how many issues they will be able to publish by the end of the year.

Lundie and Amole would not discuss the future of the paper beyond the rest of this year. Nor would they discuss Sudik's work as newspaper advisor. Sudik has advised the paper for 14 years and said she had been told she could continue working at the school next year, but would not manage the newspaper class.

Amole said that since October, Lundie has been looking at making changes to the newspaper class to coincide with changes being made at journalism institutions such as the University of Colorado.

Amole also said that a district policy blocking last names from being published online will be changed in time for a possible move to an online-only publication in the fall.

Students maintain that the situation was not a misunderstanding. They say rescinding the prior-review policy is a step forward, they still want assurances about the future of the paper and that of the advisor.

"The ultimate goal is to make sure the paper is run how it has been next year," Gutierrez said. "Having that freedom to print what we want is important. As a staff we're really close, and Sudik is part of this paper."

Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate with the Student Press Law Center who is advising the students and was on speaker phone during the meeting, said that he hopes to work with the school board in ironing out the future of the school's paper.

"I'm hoping we can offer help and work on next year and attempt to resolve these differences," Goldstein said. "The things that happened here can't repeat themselves this summer."

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