The proposed policy on student publications in Missoula's schools is getting a thorough re-examination starting Thursday, and changes to its content are likely.

A committee of students, teachers, school board members and others will discuss and debate the policy, and look to amend portions of it that have drawn criticism.

"I want to make sure our policy is not overly restrictive," said Missoula County Public Schools board president Toni Rehbein.

As proposed, the new policy would ban "socially unacceptable" content and writing "inappropriate due to the maturity level of the students," standards that critics say are vague and pave the way for censorship.

The formation of the committee was announced by Superintendent Alex Apostle at a board meeting earlier this month.

The meeting takes place from 1-3 p.m. in Room 14 of the MCPS administration building, 215 S. Sixth St. W.

The update to the existing publications policy was passed in June by the board's policy committee, and was scheduled to be voted on at the August school board meeting.

Now getting a second look, it's unlikely to be on the consent agenda next month.

Instead, said Rehbein, the public will have a chance to comment on the matter at the opening of Thursday's meeting. That will be followed by a presentation by MCPS legal counsel Elizabeth Kaleva, who will discuss past court rulings on student publications and the First Amendment.

Besides any changes to the policy, Rehbein said she hopes the committee provides a new outline of procedures for school principals, journalism teachers and student journalists.

"We want to see that we give a tremendous amount of authority to our school editors and newspaper staff," she said.

Rehbein will be out of town for the meeting, but has shared one suggestion with Apostle, an idea she got from a student editor. That idea is an intensive, half-day workshop for student journalists, led by working journalists and professors from the UM School of Journalism.

Amendments to the policy that arise from the meeting will be forwarded to the board's policy committee, which must then pass them before the school board takes action.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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