School agrees to $35,000 settlement for confiscating student paper

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - The Wooster school district has agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a lawsuit over administrators' confiscation of an issue of the high school newspaper that had an article about student drinking.
Students had sued school officials after Superintendent David Estrop impounded copies of the Wooster Blade last December. Estrop said an article misidentified students disciplined for attending a party where alcohol was served.
The district said the article was potentially defamatory. One of the students named was the daughter of a school board member.
The students and the school district agreed to distribute the newspaper in January with two sentences blacked out. The student editor then filed a lawsuit.
The lawsuit asked for a court order requiring officials to acknowledge the confiscation was wrong and to agree that it would not be done again.
The settlement was reached last week, days before the case was to go to trial in federal court in Akron. Terms of the deal were made public Wednesday. The district's insurance company will pay the settlement.
The students' lawyer, Ken Myers of Cleveland, will get $30,000.
The students agreed to give $2,500 each to the Student Press Law Center and the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The settlement precludes the students, Myers and school officials from discussing it. The sides apologized to each other in a statement that was part of the deal.
Mark Goodman, head of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said the agreement is important to student journalists nationwide.
"This case reaffirms the conclusion that if a school allows a student newspaper to operate freely, that school will not be able to censor it, except in the most exceptional circumstances," Goodman said.
Goodman said his law center, which is an advocate for high school journalists nationwide, said cases like the Wooster one come up about once every five years.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)