Most of you probably are already aware that in two days 1,100 news outlets across the country will participate in an educational campaign about the First Amendment called “1 For All.” If you haven’t heard about it, this posting will serve as an announcement. It’s too bad this campaign is starting in the summer months when most schools are no longer in session. I would hope, however, that when school starts you will continue the campaign in your classrooms, a campaign that several of you have been carrying on for years.
According to the Nashville Tennessean, participants in the “1 For All” campaign include Yahoo, Google, YouTube, Ellen Degeneres, John Mellencamp, LL Cool J and others. They will all be explaining how the First Amendment affects everyday lives.
Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center and the Newseum is the founder of “1 For All.”
“The truth is,” Paulson told the Tennessean, our schools don’t do a very good job of teaching the First Amendment. There are generations of Americans who don’t really have a good handle of what it says.”
Paulson’s comments should not be a surprise to any journalism teacher. JEA’s Student Press Rights Commission has been working for some time on ways to get students and advisers to learn the 42 words we all should value.
A 2008 First Amendment Center survey showed 40% of the respondents could not name even one freedom stated in the First Amendment. A majority knew about freedom of the press, but fewer than 20% could list freedom of the press, freedom of religion or the right to assemble. Even fewer knew about the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
In a column in the Tennessean, Paulson said “1 For All” was the collaborative effort of educators, artists, journalists, lawyers, and librarians as well as others who believe the “American public would benefit from a greater understanding of the First Amendment and the need to protect all voices, views and faiths.
The campaign will feature ads that celebrate freedom in America and ways we exercise freedoms daily.
Paulson said in his column the “1 For All” campaign is non-partisan. “It’s all about education,” he said. He indicated “1 for All” will provide educational materials, course content and study guides for teachers in grades 1-12. He also said “1 For All” will be interactive.
“Students and others,” he said, “will be encouraged to submit photos, videos, songs and stories that reflect the value of freedom in America.”
The focus, Paulson said, would be on all five freedoms.
For more information go to www.1forall.us.
A discussion on JEA’s listserv earlier this week raised some significant questions about FOI requests to student media – and the importance of clarifying who owns the content of student media.
According to Mark Goodman, Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, that situation raised an important issue for all public school-sponsored student publication staffs to consider: Under virtually all state open records laws, most school-maintained records are public: anyone has the right to request them for any reason.
Although there may be exemptions for some records that would implicate personal privacy or reveal personally identifiable information about individual students and their academic performance, Goodman wrote, many records, especially financial records are open to the public on request and that would include the financial records of your publication.
Note Goodman said school records.
“I maintain that a much different standard should apply to any documents relating to the content of your publications,” Goodman wrote. “Although there is virtually no court precedent on this (and as each state’s open records law is different, so it would take a court case in each state to settle the matter), I think there is a compelling argument to be made the the First Amendment protects the journalistic work product of student publication student staff members, effectively exempting them from coverage of a state open records law.”
The key to making that argument work, Goodman said, is evidence that students, not school officials (including the adviser), are determining the content of the publication.
Goodman shared a story about a state attorney general opinion on this issue involving a college student newspaper at the SPLC Web site.
“Here is yet another reason why a smart school will have a written policy stating that student editors make the content decisions for their publications,” Goodman wrote. “If schools are dictating content, that creates the possibility that every e-mail a student publication staff member sends relating to his/her job, every story draft a student creates, every page layout they work on will be subject to an open records request to the school. On the other hand, if the students are acting independently (even with the advice of a faculty adviser), I believe these open records laws should not and would not apply.”
Goodman also addressed another point: who owns the copyright to the works media students create.
“If your school is claiming ownership (legally questionable at best), that will certainly bolster any public records requests for access to the records as well,” he wrote. “I’m a firm believer that student works belong to students, not necessarily to the individuals but to the student publication staff and NOT to the school.”
After reading about the yearbook craziness in Amherst, N.H., today, I’ve been stewing over the situation. While I’m reminded of the importance of having detailed publications policies, I’m also scared to learn how quickly a school board might work to change those policies on a whim.
Here’s the short version of the story: The Souhegan High School yearbook staff is under fire for including portraits of two students charged in connection with a murder. Some folks in the community, including family of the murder victim, consider this to be insensitive and inappropriate. It’s possible that these outraged community members are unaware of the historical value of the book as a record of school attendees during a given time period, or of the fact that both students were still receiving school services from SHS.
It’s bad enough that the yearbook staff has to face this criticism at a time when students should be enjoying the finished product and filling autograph pages in the back. What’s worse is that the school district is “reexamining” its yearbook policy based on the situation.
What can we learn from this craziness?
(1) Somehow, community members consider themselves the yearbook’s target audience, despite the fact that they do not attend the local high school and do not purchase these yearbooks. What can we do to educate our communities and help them see student publications as geared toward a student audience? The articles online make no mention of actual students being offended that their classmates appear alongside them in the portrait section.
(2) If you’re doing the right thing, stand by it. The apology issued by the superintendent and principal sends the message that the yearbook staff was wrong to include the student portraits. This hurts the program’s credibility and its students. They set out to create a complete, accurate historical record in accordance with existing publications policies. That’s cause for celebration, not apology.
(3) Even those with policies on file aren’t safe. This is censorship in disguise. If the school board “reexamines” this situation and forces change, the students lose. STUDENTS should be the ones determining the specifics behind the yearbook portrait policy and all other content decisions.
I hope students are there at tonight’s board meeting, and I hope someone pats them on the back for working to create the best possible yearbook at SHS.
I’ll be crossing my fingers as I follow this story and the fate of the yearbook publications policy on file.
Sarah Nichols, MJE
The Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association joined with the Student Press Law Center in a case about a New York school censoring a cartoon.
“If the court tells the students of Ithaca High School that they had no legally protected right to satirize the ineffectiveness of a school policy – the effectiveness of which the school itself is telling this Court is a matter of life and death – then the ‘chill’ of intimidation that student journalists already feel when they bravely take up a critical pen against their elders will turn into a deep freeze,” the brief states, according to a SPLC News Flash.
Read the News Flash for more information.
These words from an Animals song – slightly changed to the plural – leave a message those facing censorship issues should think about over the summer.
Don’t give up; don’t be misunderstood.
Blatant censorship or its muted shape of prior review is still censorship.
And it has no place in the education business.
It can be fought. You can fight it and win. All of us – students, teachers, parents and administrators – can learn from those who continue to fight:
• Letters from the ACLU and the SPLC has a Michigan district rethinking a planned move to prior review
• A Pennsylvania group of students fought planned policy changes and won. In the process they developed their own website and rallied the community.
• Washington students work to reverse change to review; lawyer says they helped change his views
• Washington teacher says action is better than reaction
• JEA takes strong position against prior review
Don’t let those who say censorship in education is acceptable misunderstand us: We will be heard and we will continue to work against its negative effects on school, community, and most importantly, on people’s lives.