Dean v. Utica

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Dean v. Utica Community Schools (345 F.Supp.2d 799 [E.D. Mich. 2004]) is a landmark legal case in United States constitutional law, namely on how the First Amendment applies to censorship in a public school environment. The case expanded on the ruling definitions of the Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, in which a high school journalism-oriented trial on censorship limited the First Amendment right to freedom of expression in curricular student newspapers. The case consisted of Utica High School Principal Richard Machesky ordering the deletion of an article in the Arrow, the high school's newspaper, a decision later deemed "unreasonable" and "unconstitutional" by District Judge Arthur Tarnow.

Case overview[edit]

After receiving a tip that her school district in Utica, Michigan was being sued by a husband and wife who claimed that the diesel fumes from school buses (which regularly idled in the neighborhood for very extended periods of time) had contributed to the husband's lung cancer and similar illnesses, Arrow sports editor Katy Dean, a junior, researched and wrote a story to be printed in the newspaper on the issue. Dean had contacted school and town officials who declined to comment, as noted in the story. Dean also included several scientific studies on the carcinogenic exposure to diesel fumes.

On March 7, 2002, Utica High School Principal Richard Machesky asked the Arrow advisor, Gloria Olman, to cut the story along with the adjoining cartoon and editorial, at the time claiming it was based on "unreliable" sources and was "highly inaccurate." After a year of asking school officials to reconsider their decision, Dean filed a lawsuit against the school district in federal court.

On October 12, 2004, Judge Arthur Tarnow determined that "The Arrow" student newspaper was an example of a limited public forum after reviewing the degree of control school officials exercised over the paper, which ultimately separated this case from the decision expressed in Hazelwood. A limited public forum—in this context, a public forum created for use by student editors—can reasonably be regulated in terms of time, place, and manner of expression, but not on the substance of that expression.

Tarnow also examined Dean's article and determined that there was not a "significant disparity in quality between Dean's article in the Arrow and the similar articles in 'professional newspapers.'" In addition to these two factors, the Judge decided that the school had censored the article in its own interest, by preventing the expression of its viewpoint, and then claiming it was "inaccurate."

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