Estero HS censoring cheerleader coach coverage

Matt Grant

Estero HS censoring cheerleader coach coverage

By Matt Grant. CREATED Nov 30, 2011

ESTERO, Fla. - Estero High School is censoring our effort to get you answers, breaking the law and violating the First Amendment, according to a Fort Myers attorney.

On Monday, we heard basketball players and cheerleaders would be wearing ribbons in support of Nicole Zivich, the cheerleading coach who believes she was canned because of her other job at Hooters.

When we stopped by the school we were told we had to leave if we planned to cover the cheerleading controversy.

"I can never tell you you can't stay...but I need you to leave the campus," said the athletic director in a mixed message. "That's my directive from my boss."

We were told we could stay only if we covered the basketball game as a sporting event and only if we didn't talk to any cheerleaders, players or parents about the fired coach.

"If you're here to videotape the game you're welcome to be here," said the athletic director. "If not you need to leave the campus."

"So, if we just want to talk to the cheerleaders we have to go?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant. "Direct from my boss is you need to leave the campus if this is to do with cheerleading that is correct."

In a statement the Lee County School District double-downed on that saying: "If you were there to cover the basketball game...then that would have been appropriate...the only reason to be there...was to cover the basketball game."

'Definition of Censorship'

But Fort Myers attorney Chris Brown says our viewers, not the district, should decide what's "appropriate" for us to cover.

"What they're doing is the definition of censorship," said Brown. "I don't know if they have legal council but that flies completely in the face of all First Amendment law."

Brown says the school district and the high school violated the First Amendment right to get you information by blocking us from covering a newsworthy event that was open to the public.

Since the media can be anywhere the public can go, he says we shouldn't have been kicked off campus in the first place. He says it's worse that we were told we could stay only if we covered the story the school wanted.

"They're restraining content here which is what's really alarming about this," said Brown. "You're not doing the story the way they want you to do and that's why they barred you."

"Basically what they're deciding, at a public taxpayer owned facility, what kind of story they want you, the press to produce," he said. "And they cannot do this."

Brown says what the district did is clearly unconstitutional. He goes so far to say that if it was challenged in court, he believes the district would lose.

Matt Grant, Reporter
mgrant@fox4now.com