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New Voices: Learning the lessons

Posted by on May 9, 2017 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Candace Perkins Bowen, MJE
There’s good news . . . and then there’s news when it comes to New Voices bills to protect student journalists.

First, the exciting part. Chris Evans, from the University of Vermont and chairman of College Media Association’s First Amendment Advocacy, posted Friday, May 5 on the New Voices USA Facebook page: “Today, Vermont’s New Voices legislation passed BOTH the Senate and House of Representatives. Student free-speech activism FTW!”

And a win it is. As Frank LoMonte reported on the SPLC website, “After months of back-and-forth, student press protections are on their way to the governor’s desk in Vermont.”

The article explains that this was part of “an omnibus education bill” and will now move to Gov. Phil Scott, “who is expected to sign it into law,” SPLC.org reports.

The fourth New Voices bill to get this far since North Dakota started the momentum in 2015, Vermont’s law would give protection to student journalists in K-12 schools and public colleges plus protection to faculty advisers who refuse to censor the legally protected work of their students.

But the other news demonstrates some of the challenges for those attempting to pass similar legislation in their states. Nevada and Michigan both have active bills at the time, but for varied reasons, they are still in process.

Patrick File, a media law professor at University of Nevada, Reno and former SPLC intern, said the way Nevada’s legislature operates creates a couple of challenges. First, the Senate and Assembly meet only every other year. “It’s an absolute sprint for 120 days from February to June,” File said.

File worked with LoMonte, plus a UNLV associate professor, the executive director of the Nevada Press Association and an attorney from the SPLC attorney network to find Senator Nicole Cannizzaro, who was willing and able to sponsor the bill.

File found support from high school advisers in both Reno and Las Vegas. Casandra Workman, CJE, spoke at a Senate committee hearing in Las Vegas, where she teaches, to “address some of the concerns” that had come up. Liz Walsh, MJE from Reno, wrote testimony and Christy Briggs, MJE, also from Reno, took students to the Senate session..

Senate Bill 420 was drafted, as all Nevada’s bills are, by the Legislative Counsel Bureau, a group of lawyers working for the legislators. Although the original bill had been patterned after the successful one in Maryland, the LCB later added amendments its members thought would improve the bill.

Not so, said File and others. Included was language that essentially requires prior review and a disciplinary process for students and advisers (but not administrators) who would prohibit free press.

As of Monday, May 8, File indicated some confidence that LCB would remove the problematic amendments, and the bill could go to the Assembly.

“My takeaway,“ File said, “is the need to be the eyes and ears of the sponsor, who’s not always as knowledgeable about student media and has 20 or 30 bills to follow, but we only have one. We have to stay on top of the language.”

Jeremy Steele, Michigan Interscholastic Press Association executive director, said, “A lot things can happen during the legislative process, and every New Voices campaign will be thrown at least one curve ball. Expect a surprise. Plan for it as best you can.”

That state currently has a bill in the House, sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Darrin Camilleri, a former high school social studies teacher, “so this bill speaks to issues that he’s passionate about,” Steele said.

The challenge here? Republicans far outnumber Democrats in the Michigan House, 100 to 63.

But Steele and those in Michigan working on New Voices say they appreciate Camilleri’s interest and “look forward to finding ways to work with him.”

Meanwhile, Steele said they have a good record from last year with bipartisan support in the Senate. The previous sponsor, Sen. Rick Jones, chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now working with them on a new version of the bill to “address many of the concerns we heard from stakeholders last session,” Steele said.

Sharing lessons learned like these seems to be one thing that’s helping current legislation move forward. Steve Listopad, then from North Dakota and the driving force between the first New Voices legislation, maintains a website that also contains helpful content from the SPLC.

Other useful tips come in videos from a November 2016 symposium hosted by Kent State University’s Center for Scholastic Journalism. Student media advisers at both the high school and college levels, scholastic press association leaders, lobbyists and others concerned with student voices from 17 states and the District of Columbia, participated. Videos captured all the panels, including one sponsored in part by JEA: “Part 6: Getting Advisers/Students/Scholastic Press Associations Engaged.”

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Michigan schools face loss of open forum status

Posted by on Apr 4, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Despite the Dean v. Utica court decision and despite the fact they have had histories of being forums for student expression, at least two more Michigan schools and their student media face school board rejection of that student media status.

In a number of similar instances, a common factor, according to boards and advisers, is the consulting group, NEOLA.

NEOLA released  a revised set of policies this fall for student media, 5722, which consisted of four possible selections instead of a single choice, last updated in 2000. The 2000 model NEOLA policy did not support an open forum concept for student media. NEOLA says its updated four choices have two non open forum models and two open forum ones.

Either of the two forum offerings, as NEOLA presents them, allows a district to choose which student media not to permit to be called open forums. School boards can pick and chose which of the options they want to adopt.

NEOLA says it does not advocate any of the four choices over the others.

Information reported in today’s Hometownlife.com reported otherwise for journalism students in the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools.

“Acting on a recommendation from NEOLA,” the policy consultant used by the district,” the publication reported, “Plymouth-Canton’s policy committee recommended changes to the policy covering school-sponsored publications and productions.”

According to hometownlife, “The new policy, if adopted, applies to “school-sponsored media” such as Perspective, 88.1, yearbooks, playbills, blogs, library journals, theatrical productions and video and audio productions. It also extends to posters, pamphlets, and school-sponsored clothing such as T-shirts.”

The online publication also reported that a Michigan law firm supported imposing the restrictive Hazelwood interpretation of how school districts can control student media.

According to the article, school officials do not plan to change “the way we do business. We have an obligation to make sure our students maintain high standards of academic achievement.”

JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission is talking to Michigan advisers and NEOLA officials for additional information.

Reports of NEOLA-led changes came from the Dexter Schools. Student media in Dexter also face hostile blog attacks.

Anyone in Michigan or other states who faces similar actions over policy reversal should let their state JEA directors and the press rights commission know the details.

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