School board plans to update publication policy

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis school board plans to introduce an updated school publications policy in next month’s meeting.

The student publications policy has been a topic of discussion following community concerns when Clovis High School’s Plainsman yearbook featured photos of two lesbian couples in a section on relationships this spring.

The photos were not discussed by board members, community members or school board attorney Dave Richards.

In its July meeting, the board expects to introduce the policy, modified by Richards, and it should have the opportunity to vote on the policy in August following a 30-day public inspection period.

In discussing standards for the new policy, Richards brought up a series of court rulings involving student speech rights at public schools. He focused on two cases:

• Tinker v. Des Moines School District (1969), which upheld the rights of three students to wear black armbands in school protesting the country’s policy toward Vietnam.

• Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988), which upheld a public school’s right to impose limits on what can appear in school-sponsored student publications.

Richards was asked by board member Mark Lansford if the court decisions conflicted in any way, and Richards said the rulings set a clear difference between protections for school-sponsored speech and individual speech.

“Public schools have the right to control their surroundings,” Richards said, “but students also have rights under the First Amendment to express their own beliefs.”

It was requested Richards rework the policy, and he asked which case standard the board would like to follow. Under a Hazelwood standard, the board and schools would have a great deal of control. Under Tinker, the school could only control speech if it could prove the speech interfered with the educational process.

The board indicated it would like to adopt a policy under Hazelwood standards, which would require removing the current policy’s definition of student publications as a “public forum.”

Another necessity of the policy would be the right of a student to appeal if the student felt work was unfairly censored.

“It’s not that we want to censor anybody,” board member Terry Martin said. “The product we put out (should be) a good product for the community.”

Three residents made public comments on the publications issue:

• Will Cockrell, a member of Central Baptist Church’s Christian citizenship committee, said in his military experience, you either make sure something’s working, or you remove it until it does work.

He said he wasn’t at the meeting to keep a “who shot John” narrative going, but said, “We would like some assurance that John doesn’t get shot again.”

• Kathy Valunes has been a teacher at Clovis High since 2000, and is now the faculty advisor for the Purple Press newspaper and the Plainsman.

“Both of these classes are taught in line with benchmarks established by the state,” Volunes said. She added that creation of the new policy should be one of open communication, so everybody is on the same page.

• Jose Griego, who has taught at Clovis since 1972, said the student publication issues didn’t surprise him at all, and recalled a parent once objecting to an interracial homecoming court.

“This community, in my opinion,” Griego said, “needs to be more accepting of what our students at Clovis High School have to offer.”

Meetings Watch: Clovis Municipal Schools Board of Education

A supplemental report on Tuesday’s Clovis Municipal Schools Board of Education meeting:

• Clovis High School swim team coach Vince de Maio was honored with the school’s New Mexico School Board Association excellence award. Since taking over the team four years ago, it has gone from a girls team to a coed team with a feeder program. About a dozen community members came in support of de Maio, who spread the credit around.

“Success at any level depends on a lot of things, from people up top taking care of things to parents getting their kids out of bed to kids putting in the effort,” de Maio said. “It’s a lot more than me.”

• The board accepted the creation of a CHS cheerleader booster club.

Clovis Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said she saw no reason the team shouldn’t have a booster club, and board member Max Best agreed since the New Mexico Activities Association recognizes cheerleading as a sport.

Penny Bailey is president, D’Ann Wiley vice president, Leah Jackson secretary and Linda Tenorio treasurer.

• The board tabled an item regarding community use of school facilities to seek legal clarification. The board needs a new policy because state anti-donation laws prevent the school from providing its facilities to a non-government entity without seeking compensation.

The policy, as introduced, charges different rates for non-community organizations, community organizations and non-profit organizations.

Board member Mark Lansford was concerned about the lower rates for community and non-profit organizations (i.e. $100 for four hours at Rock Staubus Gymnasium) from the viewpoint that rent charges lower than facility operation costs may construe a donation.

“If we give it away for less than cost,” Lansford said, “I think we have a problem.”

• The board renewed an activity transportation agreement with Adair, Inc., and accepted bids to supply the school’s athletic teams and cafeterias.

• A work session was announced for July 8 regarding the state’s new funding formula for schools.

• The next meeting is July 22 at the central office building, followed by an Aug. 12 visitation meeting at Lincoln-Jackson Family Center.