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Anniversary provides opportunity to thank, educate decision-makers

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While next week’s 25th anniversary of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision isn’t something to celebrate in a traditional sense, it does offer the opportunity for pause and reflection. And in some cases, it gives us the chance to say thanks.hazelwoodcolor

Thank you to the principals, school board members and decision-makers out there supporting student journalists and the educational experience involved in a media program free of administrative control. Thank you for trusting students, under the guidance of teachers and advisers, to do their jobs as reporters. Thank you for encouraging their journey through a process that involves tireless research, interviewing, critical thinking, writing, editing and revision — the stories they tell truly make a difference.

In many states, principals by law can exercise prior review. Thankfully many know better and decide against this practice. The 25th anniversary of the Hazelwood decision seems like a great time to say thank you to those principals. If you’d like to send a letter or note of appreciation, now’s the time.

Here’s a simple card you can download and customize as a way to say thanks from journalism students to their principal, for example. Ready to print and use — with student signatures, a staff photo or whatever meets your needs.

Want to send a letter or email? Maybe this sample will help:

Dear principal/administrator/school official,

Thank you for the continued support of our journalism program and the daily opportunities it provides for our students as 21st-century learners.

This month, we are reflecting on the 25th anniversary of a Supreme Court case that significantly limited student media — Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier — and I am reminded again of how challenging it would be to advise publications in a school setting that failed to support student press freedom. True growth, learning and leadership occurs when students are accountable for their own decision-making process and work independently to serve the school community. Through thorough research and careful reporting, they are able to tell important stories that benefit others.

Advising in a supportive environment free of prior review (a form of censorship) offers a win-win. As students engage in thoughtful decision-making and critical thinking, I am able to focus as the teacher on creating meaningful, standards-based lessons.

I am proud to be part of a school climate that demonstrates a solid commitment to an authentic education and civic engagement.

Sincerely,
Adviser

Clearly we have a long road ahead in securing a free press for all student journalists, but I hope we won’t miss this opportunity to thank those who support what we do. We know it’s the right thing, and we can only hope the 25th anniversary of this decision will unite our efforts in spreading the word.

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