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The Bear Truth, the student newspaper at Palmer Ridge High School, is celebrating Free Speech Week, which started Monday, with an article about the observance on the home page of its website.

The blurb is particularly pertinent because one week ago, the paper endorsed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for president.

While the newspaper staff expected "significant reaction," to the editorial, they didn't expect the vitriol they got, said Evan Ochsner, a Palmer Ridge senior and co-editor-in-chief.

"Some of the stuff we've seen on Facebook is quite disgusting," Ochsner said. "There were a lot of personal attacks that seemed out of bounds. It almost borders on bullying."

Residents in Palmer Lake, Monument and surrounding areas have been heavily Republican - in the last presidential election, nearly three-fourths of voters in those areas voted for the Republican candidate, according to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

A poll the paper released Oct. 12, the same day as the editorial, showed students favoring Donald Trump for president with 47 percent of votes, and Clinton with 36 percent.

The editorial "outraged" some parents, said Palmer Ridge English teacher and newspaper adviser Tom Patrick.

They emailed the school and took to social media, saying the editorial was inappropriate for a student publication, that Trump should have been given equal space, and that the paper's staff should be suspended.

They said Patrick was a "communist" and a "socialist." They accused him of indoctrinating students and called for his job.

"There are a lot of parents that don't understand what the rights of the student press are and the Colorado law," Patrick said.

Students' reactions were mixed.

The Bear Truth is published monthly and distributed during class. After seeing the editorial, some students crumpled the issue and threw it on the floor, Patrick said.

Parent Tara Cullen said her son came home very upset. "These students feel like the editorial board is speaking for them, and they are not OK with that," she posted online. "No one should force their beliefs and opinions on anyone."

Lorri Halenkamp, a parent of two children at Palmer Ridge, wrote on the paper's website that she was in shock: "I am in complete and utter disgust at this blatant attempt to sway the minds of impressionable young voters."

Others were supportive, Ochsner said.

"There's been a lot of positive reaction from teachers, and fellow students were excited we did it," he said.

Deanna Telles called the editorial "well written and researched."

She said while she doesn't agree with some of the points made, "I'm happy to see you're taking an active interest in politics and our country's future," she wrote to students online.

Because of the volume of complaints and misunderstandings, Patrick and the Palmer Ridge principal sent an email to parents last Friday, saying that the political views expressed were an opinion of the student newspaper's editorial board, which is composed of nine students, and does not reflect any position held by the school or district.

While some lauded the work, others think the editorial not only overstepped its bounds but also violated Lewis-Palmer School District 38 policies.

Not so, said Julie Stephen, D-38 spokeswoman. Policies governing student publications allow for such opinions, she said.

"The Board encourages students to express their views in school-sponsored student publications while observing rules for responsible journalism and complying with this policy and the accompanying school publications code," a D-38 policy states.

As per district rules, students cannot print anything obscene, libelous, slanderous, defamatory, or that encourages unlawful acts or violation of school rules, privacy or disruption to normal school activity.

"I think some parents were confused," Stephen said.

The presidential endorsement was "what student newspapers do - reflecting the culture of the day," she said. "I think the country is in an uproar about the election, and our community responded as the country is right now."

Parent Gordon Reichal believes the editorial violates a policy that prohibits distribution of political material to students.

Patrick said he believes that policy applies to district employees, not students.

Some parents wanted the board of education to take up the issue at a regular meeting Thursday and possibly discipline the newspaper's editorial board.

"There's no chance of disciplinary action," said D-38 board president Mark Pfoff. "There is nothing on our agenda, nor do we plan on having any discussion about it."

The board has not been contacted by the administration concerning any potential policy infractions, he added.

"The bottom line is kids have the freedom of speech," Pfoff said.

The matter is not necessarily cut-and-dried, said Laura Eurich, a senior instructor in the department of communications at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She's also the adviser for the UCCS student newspaper, The Scribe.

Eurich cited a legal precedent, which in 1988 determined that high school students are subject to a lower level of First Amendment rights and can in advance of publication be censored by faculty and staff.

"Many of us who teach journalism want to use these newspapers as learning labs, so students can practice the true art of journalism," Eurich said. "If you're running it as a learning lab, students should have their First Amendment rights and be able to speak freely. But they are using school resources."

And it's up to adults to ensure that "students don't go too far and run into cases of libel or defamation," Eurich said.

But Colorado is one of nine states that give additional protection to high school publications not being censored under the Colorado Student Free Expression Law, Patrick said.

Ochsner said he will address the D-38 board during the open comment period of Thursday's meeting to outline the legal backing, the importance of a free press and what high school journalists do.

"We have parents being extremely uncivilized in attacking kids for publishing something they have every right to publish," Patrick said.

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