Administrators should no longer have the power to censor information published by student journalists. An administrator’s disagreement, unclear guidelines, and damage to a school’s reputation are no excuses for the silencing of student journalists.
Ever since the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court ruling of 1988, school administrators have had the right to censor any publication that receives school funds. This ruling prohibits journalists from reporting on key issues, expressing their opinions and utilizing the full extent of their first amendment rights.
If an administrator disagrees with a student’s ideas in an editorial or the subject matter of an article, they have full power to stop this content from being published. This ability diminishes the effort of the student, since the administrator’s views are prioritized over the student’s journalistic findings. Although some may argue that censoring sensitive content would help avoid conflicts and possible lawsuits, a journalist should have every right to report on controversial issues. When students are unable to report on current events or give their opinions in an editorial due to potential conflicts, their voice is unfairly taken away.
The 1988 ruling also does not give students a clear idea of what administrators could restrict. Without a strict definition of what a principal could find inappropriate to publish, journalism students could spend weeks gathering information and composing their article, just to have it cut out from the publication entirely. Although administrators are expected to have good reason behind what they choose to censor, some could let their personal biases get in the way. This unfair process could deprive students of the ability to have their hard work published.
A student should not be punished for reporting the facts, even if the facts damage a school or group’s reputation. Journalism curriculums emphasize unbiased, factual journalism. Therefore, an administrator should not have the ability to restrict well researched and reported articles from publications. Even though this published information could potentially harm the school’s reputation, readers of school publications deserve to know the facts, and student journalists deserve to have their gathered facts shared and known.
In order to protect the first amendment rights of students, everyone should get involved in the New Voices campaign. New Voices is a student driven, nonpartisan movement that protects student journalists’ rights on the state level. To support this movement, all are welcomed to join the New Voices facebook pages and find more information on their website (splc.org/New-Voies). As more states recognize the increasing importance of protecting first amendment rights, the outdated nature of the Supreme Court ruling will be brought to light, showing the world that no student, journalist or American should ever deserve to be silenced.
Kate Whyte, Copy Editor
The New Voices movement, a grassroots organization, works towards ensuring that the student press’ rights are protected. They protect students who stand up against advisors, and have managed to get free press laws passed in 14 different states. This movement is admirable, and with the recent national student press freedom day, this movement should be encouraged to continue, operate, and grow in response to the increase of student journalists.
Within school systems, administrators are able to exercise censorship as a result of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case. However, when these administrators unfairly censor student work, which silences the voices of young journalists, it can often be hard to find ways to stand up or to have a source of protection. This is where the New Voices movement is able to step in and offer aid. Campaigns are frequent and available for those interested, and helps to return a voice to a community of writers who have felt that they have been unfairly silenced.
However, one might argue that New Voices is unnecessary, considering that students already have first amendment protections put under place. In an additional supreme court decision, Tinker v. Des Moines, student speech is protected unless it is found to consist of libel, privacy invasions, or any threats that exemplify a clear and present danger. Although it is important to consider that these protections are helpful, they are also rather broad, and still leave lots of room open for interpretation. This is one of the primary reasons why administrators and advisors are able to get away with pushing censorship onto student work.
For these very reasons, the New Voices movement is essential. It creates a safety net for school publications, and allows students to retaliate against the unfair power that has been pressed down upon them. Since it is a grassroots-based organization, anyone is able to join, including adults or school staff who support the written word of their students. New Voices should continue to work towards their goals, as they have already made considerable progress across a large pool of demographics, and will continue to expand with greater support.
Keana Hinojosa, Staff Writer