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State legislation provides additional protections for student expression

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by Mark Goodman
Although many educators and advocates think of the First Amendment (and the court decisions interpreting it) as the most important tool for interpreting student press rights, there is another equally important source of law: state statutes.

As of September 2016, 10 state legislatures have enacted statutory protections for high school students’ free expression rights that help define the protections for and limitations on student journalists.  These state laws are considered a complement to the U.S. Constitution; they provide protections that are in addition to those in the First Amendment.  For that reason, school officials, teachers and student journalists must be sure that their actions comply with both the Constitution and the state law.

These state laws are considered a complement to the U.S. Constitution; they provide protections that are in addition to those in the First Amendment.  For that reason, school officials, teachers and student journalists must be sure that their actions comply with both the Constitution and the state law.

None of the 10 existing state laws are optional.  Public school officials (and even private school officials in California) are legally required to follow their provisions if they are in a state where such a law exists.  Thus everyone involved in scholastic journalism from the school administration down should seek a basic understanding of the specifics of their state law.

Student journalists need to understand the extent of the protections they have under state law because those protections may be greater than students in states without such statutes.  Advisers and teachers need to be able to teach that information to their students in the classroom and the newsroom.  Administrators need to understand that the rules their counterparts in other parts of the country follow relating to censorship of student media may not apply in their state.  And communities need to know that they are part of the process as well, supporting both educators and journalists when they follow the law.

Everyone involved in scholastic journalism from the school administration down should seek a basic understanding of the specifics of their state law.

State student free expression laws are an important way for states to define educational policy.  All involved with scholastic journalism should make understanding their own state law a priority

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