EVERETT – Everett High School seniors Sara Eccleston and Claire Lueneburg, co-editors of the school’s Kodak newspaper, on Wednesday sued the school district, accusing it of violating their free-speech rights.
In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court, but then immediately transferred by the district to federal court in Seattle, the co-editors argued that since 1989 the Kodak has served as a public forum for students, with no content oversight by school administrators. As such, the suit contends, the district’s ability to demand editorial control is severely limited, according to the Associated Press.
The Kodak co-editors have fought administrators since October over whether their principal has the right to review editions before they are published. A school board hearing in November sided with administrators, citing a district policy that allows prior review. However, students say it opens the door to censorship.
“We kind of felt this was the next step,” Lueneburg told The Herald on Wednesday. “It’s not a shock but, ‘Wow, Sara and I just filed a lawsuit!’ It’s a really big deal. And I don’t think in October we would have thought we’d ever get to this stage.”
Superintendent Carol Whitehead declined to comment. “We just received it today. We have no other information,” she said.
The Kodak’s first issue for the school year was to come out Oct. 17. The editors held it as they battled with a new principal, Catherine Matthews, and district administrators over prior review, something the paper has been largely free of in its 106-year history.
Whitehead had the issue printed and distributed to students late in November, but a student editorial policy statement citing their independence was blocked out. The second issue was scheduled for Nov. 22. Lueneburg said the editors are withholding it from their adviser and administrators.
The editors decided last week to pursue the issue in the courts after consulting with their attorney, Mitch Cogdill.
“Whatever happens, it will be effective in some way – resolving the issue,” Lueneburg said.
District spokeswoman Gay Campbell said there has been consistent school oversight of the newspaper, and that the district has an explicit policy allowing prepublication review.
“We’ve complied with the law in every way,” she said. “We’re sorry the students have decided to take this course of action.”
Campbell argued that previous principals have, in fact, reviewed the newspaper before publication.
The lawsuit seeks to restore editorial control to the students, and asks for damages to be awarded at trial. But Lueneburg said she would like to see another outcome: that the Legislature create protections for student journalists, as some states have.
The feud has gained attention from advocacy and journalism groups.
“What these two young women are doing is terribly courageous, wonderfully principled and deeply compelling,” said Vincent DeMiero, adviser to the student newspaper at Mountlake Terrace High School.