(CN) – Students quoted in their high school newspaper in articles about oral sex are not entitled to a new trial in their lawsuit against the school district, a Washington appeals court ruled.
Four students and their parents sued the Puyallup School District over comments that appeared in the Emerald Ridge High School newspaper, the JagWire, in 2008.
To address the subject, the JagWire staff distributed an optional survey to the student body regarding sex, oral sex, alcohol and drugs.
The four plaintiffs agreed to be interviewed for the article, and the reporter gave them the option of declining to answer any question.
The JagWire issue featured an article called “Oral Sex at ER: Students are having oral sex and it is not talked about in school.” It also featured articles about the morality of oral sex, the body’s response to it, and the effect of the media and pop culture on teenagers’ sexual behavior.
The articles featured the following quotes from students who had sex and oral sex: “It’s OK because it’s with someone I really care about” and “I don’t really regret anything like mistakes and I don’t think it was a mistake.”
A senior who had participated in oral sex said, “I was 15. I was horny. It wasn’t really a relationship at that point. I’d known the guy for a week.”
The issue won “best in show” at the Washington Journalism Education Association conference, but it also earned the district a trip to the courthouse.
The students sued for invasion of privacy, negligence, negligent hiring at supervision and outrage, stating that the issue’s publication led to embarrassment, extreme humiliation, ridicule and sexual harassment.
At trial, they asked for a high-end award of $6.8 million.
The district argued that the student journalists operated under an open forum, with adviser Kevin Smyth merely ensuring that they do not violate school policy or “publish things that were not protected speech.”
The jury ruled for the district.
The students asked for a new trial, but the trial court refused, and the Tacoma-based Division II Washington Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.
“The district properly introduced evidence and testimony regarding the open forum teaching method at Emerald Ridge,” Judge Joel Penoyar wrote. “Further, the district properly used the students’ statements of damages to demonstrate potential bias.”
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