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Newspaper Sues Schools For Attempting To Ban Reporter

February 23, 1994

WEST SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ A newspaper is suing to stop local schools from banning one of its reporters from school grounds.

The ban was in retaliation for the reporter’s failure to warn officials of a lesbian group’s plans to distribute leaflets and candy at an elementary school on Valentine’s Day, said West Springfield School Committee Chairman Michael Bigda.

″She was in a position to stop it and she didn’t,″ Bigda said Monday after the district sent a certified letter to the reporter threatening her with arrest for trespassing if she appeared in a school building. ″She was more interested in getting her story than in the children.″

The paper asked the Hampden Superior Court on Tuesday to block the ban on the ground that it violates constitutional protections of press freedom. A hearing was scheduled for March 2.

Four women claiming to be members of the Northampton chapter of the Lesbian Avengers distributed leaflets and candy to youngsters for about 15 minutes Feb. 14 before leaving at the request of school officials.

A telephone number listed in the pamphlet as being a gay ″hot line″ actually was for a graphic sex line. A spokeswoman for the group said later that it had been listed by mistake and apologized.

Angry school officials and some parents at a school committee meeting Tuesday night blamed the newspaper, the Union News.

In an editorial in Wednesday’s editions, the newspaper said the reporter, Jeanette DeForge, was given the assignment after the paper got a tip about ″possible″ leafletting.

″It would have been improper for us to notify West Springfield officials late on a Sunday night of a legal event that might take place the next morning. To do so would have made us participants.″

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