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To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Decker Westenburg and I am the Editor-In-Chief for the 101st publication of the
ReWaNe Yearbook at Reno High School. I am writing to you to express my concerns regarding a current
proposal being drafted and presented by the Board of the Trustees at the Washoe County School
District. Board Policy 5340, Interscholastic Athletics, is a policy drafted by the Policy Committee of the
WCSD. The policy is intended to clarify the distinction of sanctioned and non-sanctioned activities within
the school district and how that perceived sanction can potentially result in liability for the school district.
Part and parcel of the policy are recommendations that would directly infringe on the First Amendment
rights of the students. Questions were also raised regarding yearbooks and their ability to be deemed as a
journalistic enterprise in the eyes of the Washoe County School District.
The Supreme Court has decided, in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School
District (1969), that students do not leave their first amendment rights at the schoolhouse door, including
freedom of the press. In 1988, the Supreme Court decided in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
that administrators have the ability to exercise prior restraint with school-sponsored expression. This
greatly reduced the ability for student journalists to exercise their First Amendment rights while operating
under a limited public forum. However, the New Voices Bill of 2016 ignored the Hazelwood decision and
Tinker once again becomes the precedent. Senate Bill 420 or the New Voices of Nevada Act was signed
into law in June of 2017. This law enshrines the freedom of critical commentary while still protecting
against libel and extends to students working under the guidance of an adviser on media in any format
that is made available to a student audience. SB 420 also makes it unlawful for a school to censor a
student public forum based on concerns for image or public relations. Restrictions on any “publication of
any content in pupil publications unless the content would substantially disrupt the ability of the public
school to perform its educational mission,” are prohibited by SB 420.
At the Washoe County School District Board meeting on February 13, 2018, the Board of
Trustees policy coordinator, Lisa Scurry, was asked to comment on the possible censorship of the
yearbook. She responded, stating that “yearbook was not a journalistic enterprise” and therefore did not
receive the same protections under SB420. She continued by saying, “The senate bill is more for
journalistic enterprises like school newspaper or things that students are publishing.” In conclusion, she
stated her future intentions to propose a change to WCSD policy regarding what they consider a yearbook
to be.
Through my four years of experience, I can testify that yearbook meets all of the qualifications to
be a public forum, and therefore it should be protected under Senate Bill 420. The Washoe County School
District will be overstepping its bounds and denying hundreds of student journalists their First
Amendment rights if it creates a policy to redefine yearbooks as anything other than student run public
forums. Policy Coordinator, Lisa Scurry, is to far detached from the schools to be making such a policy.
Her interpretation that “The senate bill is more for journalistic enterprises like school newspaper or things
that students are publishing,” is correct, but her notion that yearbook does not fit within the guidelines to
be protected by the bill is incorrect. Yearbooks, like newspapers, are held to the highest journalistic
standards, run by student editorial boards, and are created to accurately portray the events that happen at a
school. Although a yearbook is only published yearly, whereas a newspaper is published monthly, it is
still a student led public forum of expression and still discusses and covers many of the same topics and
ideas. Yearbook is also unique to newspaper in that it covers student opinions through sidebars and covers
several events not sanctioned by the district such as summer events and cultural immersion trips. Lisa
Scurry confined yearbook as being a “District sponsored for a specific purpose.” In 2003, ReWaNe
Yearbook proclaimed that “the school or district may call itself the publisher, but the opinions expressed
may or may not be the opinions of the adviser or the school or district administrators.” Yearbook has
evolved from being a collection of pictures and events picked out by the district to being a voice reserved
for the students. Yearbook is an accurate representation of the entire school, not just the students who do
sports or activities sanctioned by the school. In the ReWaNe yearbook, we achieve this by covering other
events and activities that students participate in such as summer events, cultural immersion trips and a
variety of different community events. I will attach examples below of coverage from our yearbook as
well as our student run newspaper publication as examples.
I am writing to urge the Washoe County School District to prioritize the First Amendment Rights
of their students. The possibility of this new policy would greatly censor a students right to free speech,
which is one the foundations of our free society. Rather than restricting hundreds of student journalists,
WCSD should focus on the promotion of fundamental rights within their schools.
I have had the opportunity to participate in journalism classes for four years and have held a seat
on a student public forum editorial board for two years. This opportunity has shown me the power of our
democratic system, and how the freedom of the press is an integral part of a school. I urge you to please
consider the importance that student forums for expression play in a school and their essential role in our
free democratic society.

Sincerely,

Decker Westenburg
Editor-In-Chief - ReWaNe Yearbook