Access to public schools also may pose special problems. Generally, public school property is treated as nonpublic-forum public property, and regulations that restrict access but are designed to lessen interference with normal school activities would be constitutionally permissible.
No state laws bar the media from school grounds outright, but individual school districts may have adopted regulations limiting access to school property.
In June 1996, the California Attorney General's office issued an advisory opinion giving school administrators the authority to deny media access to school grounds. Ruling that "the constitutional right to gather information is not without limit," the attorney general authorized exclusion of the media if their presence "would interfere with peaceful conduct of the activities of the school." (A.G. Op. No. 95-509)
The opinion was unusual, considering that California law specifically exempts the news media from the definition of "outsiders" who must check with administrators before visiting schools. (Calif. Penal Code §§ 627.1, .2; Calif. Evidence Code § 1070)
Even if access to school grounds is permitted, reporting activities may still be limited. When a congressional candidate spoke at a high school in Auburn, N.Y., the school's principal allowed reporters to cover the candidate's speech but prohibited them from photographing or interviewing individual students.
Restrictions may also extend to activities that take place outside school grounds. When a reporter attempted to interview students after a high school graduation ceremony that took place in the Forum building in Harrisburg, Pa., police arrested him for refusing to leave the building. Though the police later claimed that school officials had told them to bar the press from the event, charges against the reporter were dropped.