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FRASCA v. ANDREWS

January 3, 1979;

Renee FRASCA, By her parent and natural guardian, Lucille Frasca, Joan Falcetta, By her parent and natural guardian, Jean Falcetta, and all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Robert ANDREWS, Individually and in his capacity as Principal of Sewanhaka Central High School, W. Wallace Purdy, Individually and in his capacity as District Principal of the Sewanhaka Central High School District, Board of Education, Sewanhaka Central High School District, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PRATT

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

 When plaintiffs commenced this action they moved by order to show cause for a preliminary injunction preventing defendants from barring distribution of one issue of a high school newspaper on the ground that defendants' actions in seizing the newspaper violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Declaratory relief, class action certification, and damages are also sought. Jurisdiction stems from 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 2201. Oral argument was heard on plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction on August 24, 1978. Because the essential facts are not in dispute, the action may be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing, and the trial on the merits is deemed to be advanced and consolidated with the preliminary injunction proceedings. FRCP 65(a)(2).

 PARTIES

 Plaintiffs Renee Frasca and Joan Falcetta are, respectively, the former Editor-in-Chief and present Assistant Editor of the Chieftain, the official student newspaper of Sewanhaka High School, which is located in Floral Park, Nassau County, New York. The school contains grades 9-12 and has approximately 1,500 students, ranging in age from 13 to 21 years. The Chieftain's editorial board and staff consists of 25 students.

 Defendants in this action are: Robert Andrews, the building principal of Sewanhaka High School; W. Wallace Purdy, the district principal; and the Board of Education of Sewanhaka Central High School District.

 FACTS

 Copies of the June 1978 issue of the Chieftain were returned to the school from the printer on the evening of June 14, 1978 and placed in the home room mail boxes in the school office for distribution on the following day, June 15, 1978, the last day of the school year. The next morning, the newspaper staff discovered that all copies of the June 1978 issue had been seized by the building principal, defendant Andrews, who prohibited their distribution. The bases for the seizure and the focal points of this suit were two letters printed in the paper and designated in the court documents as Exhibits "A" and "B".

 Exhibit "A" appeared on page 8 of the Chieftain and read as follows:

 
Sports editor,
 
We, the Lacrosse players of Sewanhaka would like to know why you do not have any sports articles in the Chieftain. We would like a formal apology in public or else we will kick your greasy ass.
 
(signed) Pissed Off
 
S.H.S. Lacrosse Team.

 The editor's response, printed immediately below, read:

 
We would like to reply by saying that the articles were stolen. We would also like to say that you hotheaded, egotistical, "Pissed Off" jocks of the Lacrosse team do not deserve an apology for anything. You should be giving one.
 
The Editors.

 Exhibit "B", which appeared on page 2, criticized the conduct of a particular student who was then vice-president of the student government. The student will be referred to as "John" in this decision, as in the court papers, to protect him from further unnecessary embarrassment. The letter stated, Inter alia, that John "has been a total failure in performing his duties" and is a "total disgrace to the school", that he had been suspended from school, that he did not maintain a high academic average, that he attended only a few of the many student council meetings, and that he had changed his report card grades "by typing over the letters on the computer terminal". It also stated that John had been given one major responsibility, to head the Interclub Council, but that the council "completely died" because John "never showed up for his own meetings". Although Exhibit "B" begins "as a group * * * we feel * * * ", the paper does not identify either the author or the "group".

 The Chieftain is an extra-curricular activity funded entirely by the local school district, which provides space, utilities, supplies, desks, typewriters, and printing. The paper is staffed solely by students, who primarily determine the content, management, and control of the newspaper. The district has no written policies, guidelines, or rules pertaining to the Chieftain "s content, or to possible prior review, restraint, or censorship by the faculty or administration. Nevertheless, defendants regard the newspaper as being under the jurisdiction and direction of the English Department's chairperson, and ultimately under the supervision and control of the Board of Education, administered through the district principal and the building principal. They consider the student editors and staff to be subject to supervision "in a manner consistent with sound educational practice".

 Although the faculty advisor was generally familiar with the content of each issue of the Chieftain before it went to press, he denies ever having exercised a "prerogative of censorship" and states that it was not his practice to review the final draft of the paper before it went to press. Apparently, the absence of written regulations, policies and ...


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