State Law Would Make Push for Yearbook Censorship a Challenge - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

State Law Would Make Push for Yearbook Censorship a Challenge

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The Reno High School yearbook club is fighting back against the Washoe County School District. The students aren’t happy about a recent push to only recognize district-sponsored athletics in the school yearbook.

The district believes yearbook photos of club sports like mountain biking or lacrosse gives the impression that these activities are school-sanctioned, creating what they're calling liability concerns. But Decker Westenburg, the yearbook's editor-in-chief, says censoring their publication would be unlawful.

“It's the district telling you, you cannot have an opinion, you cannot have a voice and this could expand possibly to school newspapers or to other versions of public forums in the district,” said Westenburg.

With yearbook in hand, Westenburg told us those kind of sanctions would violate senate bill 420, which prohibits the school district from "restricting the publication of any content in pupil publications."

Patrick File, a UNR assistant professor of media law says Westenburg is right.

 “Those can't be censored and the student journalists can't be sanctioned unless there's a substantial disruption of school activities or the educational mission of the school," said File.

At a meeting last week, Lisa Scurry, the district's policy coordinator argued that a yearbook doesn't fall under the criteria of a pupil publication.

"Yearbook isn't really a journalistic sort of enterprise which is what that senate bill that was referenced speaks to,” said Scurry.

File says the district's argument doesn't carry much weight. Saying experts in journalism education wouldn't draw a line between different forms of student media.

“Developing this content and gathering student opinions about what's going on around school, during this year in the life that appears in a yearbook, they're engaged in journalism in the same way that students who put out a daily or weekly website or newspaper are,” said File.

The board of trustees have not yet made a decision on the policy; they will however further consider their options at a meeting next Tuesday.

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