As an educator in Missouri, I was going to have to live under the thumb of SB54, now known as SB1, which Gov. Jay Nixon just signed into law. The new law eliminates the provisions that were offensive to so many teachers and First Amendment advocates in SB54, but still requires districts to enact some sort of policy by March 1, 2012 regarding employee-student communication.
So, at the urging of John Bowen, I have written a model social media policy for educators in our state. The text of it is below. I wrote this bill based off the following premise: that educators who fail to use social media as a teaching tool are not serving the best interests of their students or themselves.
Social media is so pervasive amongst our students that to ignore teaching students how to use it in forthright ways is tantamount to not properly doing our jobs as educators. Interacting via social media is a form of communication that should be governed just as any other communication an educator has with their students. Discussions in the classroom, after class, in a hallway or on Facebook, should be governed by the same rules, end of discussion.
Here is the policy. I’ve included a link to a Google Doc. If you find things you disagree with, let’s talk. If you have resources I don’t – and let’s face it, some of you do – then please share and add them to the doc. Social media moves so quickly; this Doc must continue to evolve with it.
If you believe this is a policy that would be useful in your school district, please feel free to share it with the powers that be in your district. I only ask two things if you do. First, please let me know you intend to do so (I’d like to keep a record of where this is going). Second, be passionate about the impact social media can have in our classrooms and upon our students. Don’t just offer it up to your principal. Persuade them to your point of view.
With the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals on the 2nd Circuit’s Ithaca decision, student media advisers and their journalists should be aware of a potential conflict over how they use the word “forum.”
In short, if an editorial policy is going to say student media are forums, students and advisers must be able to explain what that means and why it is educationally important.
Instead of using wording like this student publication is a limited forum or limited public forum, the Press Rights Commission strongly recommends use of this wording: This student publication is a designated public forum.
In addition, the commission also strongly recommends editorial policies also include this statement: Student editors will make all decisions of content. That statement can show the purpose of the forum and how it is carried out. Additional explanation can share why students should make all final decisions of content.
The need for these changes comes because just stating, as many student media do, that they are forums in name is no longer enough because of the Ithaca decision.
SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte said, in that organization’s May 18 News Flash, Ithaca was a misapplication of the law.
“The court just fundamentally misunderstood what it means to be a limited public forum,” LoMonte said. “A forum where the government gets to pick and choose which cartoons it likes is meaningless.”
Mark Goodman, Knight Chair of Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, said the court’s decision shows students and advisers can no longer rely on calling themselves a limited forum or just a forum for student expression.
He said the Ithaca court added a new definition of “limited” from what other courts had used, stating “limited” means (in the Ithaca decision) that student media content can be limited to certain subjects. Previous courts had consistently ruled “limited” meant schools could direct content to selected audiences.
“All that this ruling really changes,” LoMonte said in the News Flash, “is that the term ‘limited public forum’ by itself apparently is going to be meaningless. And, as in Hazelwood itself, the court looked to the actual practice as well as what was on paper.”
LoMonte later said in a post to JEA’s listserv that Ithaca is such an outlandish overreach “it may become in New York, Vermont and Connecticut what Hosty v. Carter became for the college media in Illinois — the impetus for legislators to fix the law.”
“The Ithaca decision cannot be considered a legal precedent and has no real application beyond the 2nd Circuit (New York, Connecticut and Vermont),” Goodman said.
While changing your policy’s wording does not guarantee protection against censorship (what does?), it provides a clearer, more definitive what kind of forum guides your student media.
“Drawings of stick figures in sexual positions clearly qualify as ‘lewd,’ that is, ‘inciting to sensual desire or imagination,’” Second Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in the decision about why the school could censor an independent student publication and the school’s student paper, which had attempted unsuccessfully to run the drawing in the first place.
The decision also said even though the school’s paper, the Tattler, was a “limited public forum,” the cartoon could still be censored.
Speaking of word precision, let’s all start referring to publications run by and for students as “student media,“ not school media. Another suggestion would be yearbook “printing company” rather than yearbook publisher. The more precise we are in our references, the less confusion we may mistakenly create.
Resources: Model editorial policies
We know there are a significant number of open forum student media out there, and we’d like to see you apply for JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award (FAPFA).
Being an open forum for student expression, besides having exceptional educational validity and offering excellent learning opportunities for students, can also help protect a school system in cases of liability as a recent court ruling in Seattle indicates.
If you think your student media are forums, by policy or practice, then go here or here and either download the application form for FAPFA or complete it online and return the completed form to JEA. Application for the honor comes in two parts: the initial application of 25 questions for a media adviser and an administrator.
Those meeting the criteria for the award will then receive a second application to be filled out by the principal, all student media editors and advisers. Deadline for applying is Dec. 1, 2011.
Those meeting the final criteria will be recognized at the 2012 JEA/NSPA convention in Seattle. We know you’re out there. Take the time to be recognized as First Amendment Press Freedom Schools.
Part of the difficulty in reporting controversial issues is how to define the term and the concept. Any article, if misreported in some way, can be controversial. Journalists would start with looking at the process of gathering information, of observing and conducting research.
Each of these steps would take place following journalistically responsible legal and ethical guidelines, no matter their platform.
In short, we avoid controversy even in sensitive issues through preparation and reliance on journalistic standards.
Our goal in Part 3 of Ammunition Against Prior Review and Restraint is to show coherent reporting begins with preparation using a variety of approaches. Resources for at least some of those ways are listed below.
As Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote in The Elements of Journalism, “Rather than rush to add context and interpretation, the press needs to concentrate on synthesis and verification. Sift out the rumor, the innuendo, the insignificant and the spin, and concentrate on what is true and important about a story.”
Reporting in scholastic media that omits essential pieces of information because of review or restraint is an indirect form of fabrication. It destroys not only truth but credibility and reliability. Worse, it may be a little recognized contributor to a world where stakeholders – politically right and left – grow to mistrust media of all types.
We hope these resources will help you and your students in the quest to find a process for reporting stories that are thorough, accurate – and coherent:
• Reporting controversy requires establishing a sound process
• Sensitive Issues Guide
• 10 Tips for Reporting Controversy
• Using Anonymous Sources with Care
• Verification Before Publishing Prevents Issues
• Importance of Getting Consent in Some Issues
• Tips for covering controversial subjects
• Covering controversial topics guidelines, teaching outline
• Questions to ask about controversial issues
• 10 roles activity
• Introduction to handling controversial reporting PowerPoint
• Confidential sources PowerPoint
• Resources for reporting controversial issues
Although we hoped Tinker v DesMoines might be the definitive word for what is material or substantial disruption in schools, recent events involving digital media and off-campus expression keep the issue alive – and contentious.
School safety issues, including arguments that schools need to protect themselves from cyberbullying and other off-campus speech issues making their way to campus, continue to raise questions about what is disruptive speech.
That is why a master’s thesis at Arizona State University by Kristy Roschke might be helpful not only for advisers, but students and administrators.
“More than 50 years later, Tinker still plays a vital role in protecting the First Amendment rights of students; however, the somewhat vague concept of “material or substantial disruption” has created confusion and disagreement amongst the courts,” Roschke wrote in her thesis.
Roschke cites a “mismatched set of guidelines from various cases that lead is confusing guidelines for administrators to work with, and often misapply to current situations.
Results of her study indicate the majority of decisions made by school administrators fall in category she calls “merely upsetting,” and do not reach the category of “truly disruptive.”
“Administrators’ actions often showed a misinterpretation or complete disregard for the rights granted to students by the Court,” Roschke writes, “all in the name of avoiding conflict that may or may not occur. What is worse is that, when left unchecked, school administrators are largely getting away with stifling student expression for whatever reason they deem appropriate.”
The purpose of this post then is to provide advisers and administrators with access to Roschke’s work in hopes examining it will be used to prevent misunderstanding, misinterpretation and, ultimately, censorship.
Our posting comes in two forms: an executive summary of the thesis and the entire thesis.
The full thesis provides a thorough examination of court decisions and legal standards cited and the implications of the court decisions.
We thank Kristy for agreeing to let us post her work. We hope you will find it as informative and useful as we did.
Part 1 of this series: Sisley v Seattle and liability.
Part 3 of the series will focus on reporting controversy or what can be seen as controversial.