Wash. jury sides with district in fight over school newspaper story

Friday, April 23, 2010

TACOMA, Wash. — A Pierce County jury says the Emerald Ridge High School student newspaper did nothing wrong when it published a story about oral sex and quoted students by name.

On April 21, the jurors found the Puyallup School District did not invade the privacy of four students or negligently allow their names to be published in the February 2008 edition of The JagWire.

The students — Mikaela Bates, Kevin Weeks, Madison Freedle and Whitney Higgins — all of whom have graduated, sued the school district for between $500,000 and $1.5 million in damages, claiming their reputations were ruined when the newspaper included their names and sexual histories in its edition about oral sex.

The district argued the student reporters got consent before publishing the names and that the subject matter of the stories was an important topic.

Superintendent Tony Apostle said in a statement: “The district has strong anti-harassment policies as well as a record of encouraging enterprising journalism by our high school students.”

Dallas Welker, a JagWire staffer in 2008, conducted the interviews with the four students. She told The News Tribune of Tacoma that she hoped student reporters would continue to assert their First Amendment rights.

“If we want to build professional journalists, we need to treat them like that from a young age and give them the rights that all professional journalists have,” The News Tribune quoted the 2009 Emerald Ridge graduate as saying.

Michael Patterson, attorney for the district, told The News Tribune: “It was a total vindication for the school district.

“The jury believed in freedom of expression.”

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