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Pursuit of accurate information clearly
part of scholastic journalism’s mission

Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments

To some administrators, it’s ‘curses, FOIA’ed again’

By Stan Zoller, MJE

When a student journalist pursues a story and, as H.L. Hall would say, “digs” for information, most journalism educators would be pleased.

And so too, you think, would administrators.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s becoming more common for school czars to be rankled by a student’s dogged pursuit of information.

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Understanding FERPA QT66

Posted by on May 8, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The school publication will follow the Federal Educational Rights and PrIvacy Act (FERPA) as defined by the Student Press Law Center.

Social media post/question:

What information is protected under FERPA?

Key Points/Action

FERPA does limit the specific information schools can release about students, but it doesn’t restrict schools from releasing information in aggregate or without student names attached. When schools use the generic term of “Data Privacy” as a justification for not releasing important records, student journalists must know their rights and know what to ask for.


School publication staffs must become familiar with the FERPA laws and their own state’s data privacy laws in order to ensure they can receive as much information as possible in their reporting on the school community.


Many high school journalists have a tough time getting important information and records released to them because the administrators improperly hide behind the FERPA laws or even more generically, they claim data privacy. This leads to stonewalling of students and hiding of data such as discipline information, student performance, crime and safety on campus, and many other topics which would help inform the community. Student publications must know their rights in order to get the best and the most pertinent information in telling the stories of their school



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Senior quotes, wills:
Can harm students, damage credibility QT65

Posted by on May 6, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Senior wills, April Fool’s issues and senior quotes sometimes can be considered the three Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

They  have minimal journalistic value and can quickly damage a staff’s –– and a school’s –– reputation and credibility.

Senior quotes present too much potential for damage and turn over too much control of your student publications to students who are not trained in legal and ethical considerations. Libel, innuendo, and bullying could be slipped into content, and it may slip past your editors or advisers, thus causing harm to students and damaging your publication.


Because senior quotes have minimal journalistic value and great potential for damage, they will not be used in school publications.

Social media post/question:

Senior quotes in your publications? 

Key points/action:

Students love senior quotes in the yearbook or newspaper, but what happens when a student slips something inappropriate in the quote? When does the editor decide what can and cannot go in? What if another student is bullied through a quote, and you don’t catch it? What if a double entendre slips in that no one recognizes? What if a student says something in September that they don’t want published in May? Can you guarantee every student will be equally represented?


Senior quotes should be taken out of your yearbooks and replaced with better ways of telling student stories.


Senior quotes present too much potential for damage and turn over too much control of your student publications to students who are not trained in legal and ethical considerations. Libel, innuendo, and bullying could be slipped into content, and it may slip past your editors or advisers, thus causing harm to students and damaging your publication.

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Circuit Court decisions support student freedoms QT 64

Posted by on May 2, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Quick Hits: Student First Amendment Rights

Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism and status as a limited public forum. (Dean v. Utica Community Schools, 2004)

The principal of Utica High School told the student newspaper, the Arrow, to cut an article by student journalist Katy Dean, as well as an accompanying editorial and an editorial cartoon. The students had written about a couple, Rey and Joanne Frances, who were suing the school district. They claimed the idling diesel buses in the school garage next to their home had caused the husband’s cancer.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier allows administrators to censor for “legitimate pedagogical concerns.” The principal said the articles were based on “unreliable” sources and that the article was “highly inaccurate.” Perhaps these reasons were given as his legitimate pedagogical concerns.

The students published a black box with the word “Censored” across it in white lettering, and an editorial on censorship. A local newspaper later published Dean’s censored article.

The case was decided in the United States District Court in Katy Dean’s favor because of the Arrow’s status as a limited public forum, and on the quality of the journalism. (This is a different interpretation of “limited public forum” from the Second Circuit in Ochshorn v. Ithaca City School District..

Establishing a Public Forum in Practice and Policy

The judge ruled that the student paper was a public forum, even though it was produced by a class for school credit. He used the nine criteria established in Draudt v. Wooster. Because it was a public forum and therefore under Tinker,[link] not under Hazelwood, the principal had violated the students’ rights.

To determine if the paper was a public forum, the judge looked at the practice of the publication.  In its 25 year history, the officials at the school had never intervened in the editorial process of the publication. The students had no practice of submitting content to school officials for prior review, nor did the faculty adviser regulate the topics the newspaper covered. In practice the paper was a public forum.

School policy also supported the “Arrow’s” status as a public forum. The curriculum guide and the course descriptions provided evidence that it should enjoy the protections of Tinker.

Clarifying When Censorship is Permissible Under Hazelwood

Though the judge ruled the paper was under the Tinker standard, he also closely examined the censored article by Katy Dean using the Hazelwood standards of fairness, research and writing.  He found that, even under Hazelwood, “the suppression of the article was unconstitutional.” The school officials had claimed the work was “inaccurate” because they disagreed with the opinions of people quoted in the story. What the district called “inaccurate” was simply an attempt to disguise “what is, in substance, a difference of opinion with its content,” the judge wrote.  Even under the Hazelwood standard, the officials had violated the students’ rights.

In his decision, the judge quoted President Harry S. Truman: Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

He also quoted President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.”

Dean v. Utica shows two avenues for student journalists to free themselves from Hazelwood. The first is to be a public forum in either “policy or practice.” The second is to produce high quality journalism.



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Decision protects students’ rights, since 1943 QT 63

Posted by on Apr 29, 2018 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Quick Hits: Student First Amendment Rights

What, students have rights? Not until 1943 (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette)

Before the Barnette decision, when students came into conflict with public schools, the courts decided their cases—often against the students—without mentioning students’ right. They considered if the punishment was excessive. (Beating with a rawhide strap was okay in 1859.) They also debated if it was the parents’ right or the schools’ right to discipline the students.

The First Amendment was never mentioned.

Gathie and Marie Barnett* were attending Slip Hill Grade School in Charleston, West Virginia when America entered World War II in December, 1941. The school district installed flags in classrooms (replacing pictures of flags) and required all students to salute the flag. The West Virginia State Board of Education passed rules in January, 1942 requiring the flag salute and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, which Congress would formally adopt in June, 1942.

The Barnett family, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, felt saluting the flag was a form of idolatry and a violation of their religion. As Gathie said some 60 years after the case, “We were taught that bowing down to the flag, saluting it, was like a bowing down and giving reverence to it—it was like an idol. So we believe definitely not to worship idols.”

The Supreme Court released its decision in the students’ favor on Flag Day, June 14, 1943.

Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote these memorable words in favor of students’ rights: If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official high or petty shall prescribe what shall be orthodox in matters of politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by work or acts their faith therein.”

Though the Supreme Court did not specifically address student press rights until 1988, the Barnette case is essential to student journalists. It restrains public schools from restricting students’ religious rights, the first freedom in the Bill of Rights. It established that students as young as elementary school are protected by the First Amendment.

Justice Jackson wrote, “That we are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.

*A court clerk misspelled their name as Barnette


Related issues and cases:


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Six schools, 22 student journalists and 201 state legislators:
Lobby Day in Minnesota

Posted by on Apr 25, 2018 in Blog, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Lori Keekley, MJE
I had no idea how inspired I would be by 22 students from six different schools who joined me to lobby for the New Voices legislation March 19.

During the one day at the capitol, the students made signs, learned and practiced how to talk to legislators, lined the senate and house while legislators entered and talked to the press, but something else happened there too.

The students, some of whom have been censored by administrators, found their voice. They learned what it’s like to be civically engaged and to work to further the bill’s goal of clarification of the roles of student journalists and administrators.

However, my favorite part of lobby day wasn’t seeing the students interviewed by local media or the reports of how conversations with legislators went. Instead, my favorite moment happened right after the students lined the hallway for the representatives going into session.

After the legislators entered, a group of elementary students passed and they started asking the students present for lobby day questions. The questions ranged from “Wow, did you make that sign” to “You’re here to talk to them?”

The idea of these young student journalists inspiring the next group of active citizens makes me know that even if the student free expression bill doesn’t get heard this year, we are raising more children who will understand the importance of their voice — and maybe one of those elementary students will help facilitate even greater change.

After the lobby day finished, one of these students took over contacting more of the state senators as her community service campaign. Others have continued to ask what they can do if the bill doesn’t get heard this year, and two volunteered to lead the student group the following year.

While some may be surprised by the students taking on these ownership roles, I am not. I see this daily during my journalism class. Student leaders are in charge and making decisions while working to empower all voices — especially those marginalized.

As a teacher, I will continue to work to empower all of their voices and show the value of civic engagement. And maybe this still will be the year for Minnesota

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