Ithaca, N.Y. — A nearly decade-old lawsuit brought by eight Ithaca High School students over censorship has ended, with more of a whimper than a bang, but perhaps a moral victory for the students.
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U.S. District Court Judge Norman Mordue in Syracuse dismissed the case Oct. 23, according to the Student Press Law Center, because the students had graduated and the publications guidelines that were at issue had been been scrapped and replaced.
What the judge did not rule on — the core question of the case — was whether the 2005 guidelines at Ithaca High School were unconstitutional in imposing prior restraints on free speech of the students. An updated version of publications guidelines in 2009 weakened some of those restraints. That could be the moral victory.
The case began with a racy satirical cartoon that staff of the student publication “The Tattler” planned to run about sex education in health classes. The paper’s adviser pulled it, the students created an off-campus alternative paper in order to publish it along with material critical of the administration — and the district wouldn’t allow its distribution in the school.
Eight student editors of The Tattler then decided to sue. Ithaca lawyer Raymond Schlather represented them.
“It would have been better for everybody to have a judicial declaration that the old guidelines were in fact constitutionally infirm and then a permanent injunction against those guidelines and anything close to it,” Schlather told SPLC.
Gregg Johnson, the school district’s attorney, told SPLC that the dismissal by Judge Mordue represented “procedural resolution of two claims that, at this point, are moot and meaningless.”
The Voice will be providing more coverage of “The Tattler” case later today.