When members of the Churchill County Education Association in Fallon, Nev. thought an article in the high school student newspaper made a teacher look bad, their reaction wasn’t very educationally sound: They wanted administrators to censor the publication.
Lauren MacLean’s article in The Flash covered a controversy over audition tapes for the state honor choir and parental concern with the music teacher who, they claim, was to have sent them. Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State, who wrote about this in the Center for Scholastic Journalism blog, has seen the article and reports, “It is student journalism at its best: fact-based, not inflammatory, insightful, relevant. It simply gives readers the facts and lets them reach their own conclusions.”
Jerry Ceppos, dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada and former executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, also expressed his concern. On the Web site for the Reno Gazette-Journal, Ceppos suggested the teachers’ union needed the colorful, two-story-tall banner now hanging in his school with the 45 words in the First Amendment sewn into it.
Luckily, no one censored anything. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, MacLean’s article was to run Friday. Its editorial concluded, “But in the little town of Fallon, a welcome spark of freedom now shines. Taking the more courageous and principled course, Mr. Lords (the principal) and Ms. Ross (the superintendent) — and young Lauren MacLean — did well.”
Should we be bothered that the superintendent told Ceppos both she and the principal read the article before publication? Maybe that’s material for another blog.
Do school officials have the right to punish students for postings they make online from their home computers? Whether they have the right or not, they are doing it, especially for posts students make on their Facebook accounts.
The Nashville Tennessean newspaper reported yesterday that administrators had expelled a student at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Nashville earlier this month. The student, who made the post from his home computer, typed his frustrations concerning a coach he’d had problems with at school. “I’ma kill em all,” the student said. “I’m a bust this (expletive} up from the inside like nobody’s ever done before.” The Tennessean reported the student said the threat wasn’t real, but school officials said they couldn’t take any chances.
This case is similar to others across the nation where administrators have disciplined students for their online comments even though the comments were made off school grounds.
The Tennessean said school officials have become sensitive to cyber-threats since a Missouri teenager committed suicide in 2006 supposedly because of online harassment.
This is not the only case where school administrators have taken action against students for online postings. According to the Tennessean, officials suspended a seventh grader in Syracuse, NY, this month for what they considered “inappropriate and libelous” material against a teacher.
The Nashville student was just one semester away from graduating. He claims the posts were taken out of context and that he never intended to hurt anyone. He also has written a letter of apology to his coach. The student and his family appealed the suspension, but they lost. His parents are home schooling him for the rest of the year.
“Online speech is hazy,” David Hudson, a scholar at the First Amendment Center in Nashville, told the Tennessean. Hudson said the Supreme Court has yet to decide a case on the matter. School officials, he said, have to determine if a threat like this one is true or whether the speech would cause a substantial disruption to school activities.
“True threats,” Hudson said, “are not protected by the First Amendment, so you have to determine whether it is a true threat or whether there was another meaning.”
In Nashville schools, officials have banned social networking sites like Facebook,. However, the Tennessean said students often consider their online lives at home completely separate from the school’s code of conduct and that a Facebook posting is no more public than a phone conversation with friends. Who’s right?
Those interested in a bit of real life government in action can follow the introduction of the Nebraska free expression legislation on Twitter at #LB898.
Follow along and see what is happening compared to legislation efforts in other states by comparing Nebraska’s bill with those of other states by using the SPLC library.
Nebraska’s bill can be seen at
http://www.netnebraska.org/publicmedia/capitol.html , hearing room #1525.
According to a news flash from the Student Press Law Center , Nebraska Sen. Ken Haar’s student freedom of expression bill, LB 898, will get a public hearing Tuesday.
The SPLC reports the proposed bill would prevent schools from restricting speech unless it is defamatory, obscene or otherwise unprotected by the First Amendment.
Here is link to the Nebraska proposal.
In light of recent censorship situations around the country, especially Stevenson High in Illinois and Timberland High in Missouri, please help the JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission expand its outreach to those facing censorship issues.
We also want to celebrate student media operating as open forums for student expression.
• If your student media has faced or faces censorship, please let us know so JEA and other scholastic journalism groups might be able to offer advice or assist. Use this downloadable form to enable us to be more aware of issues your students face.
• If your student media is a designated open forum for student expression or is an open forum for student expression by practice, please let us know. Use this downloadable form so JEA and other scholastic journalism groups can recognize your accomplishments.
• If your student media prior review where someone other than students makes final decisions of content, please let us know. Use this downloadable form so JEA and other scholastic journalism groups can recognize your accomplishments.