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SPLC addresses JEA’s prior review, restraint definitions

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

The Student Press Law Center, in its May 4 blog, put JEA’s newly adopted definitions of prior review and prior restraint into legal and educational perspective.

“If a school official insists on reading a student publication ahead of time, they will eventually try to censor it,” SPLC consultant Mike Hiestand wrote. “I would like someone to prove me wrong on this, but I’ve never seen an established system of prior review that has ever remained a pure “reading only” practice.”

In its newly adopted guidelines, JEA created the following definitions:

Prior review occurs when anyone not on the publication/media staff requires that he or she be allowed to read, view or approve student material before distribution, airing or publication.

Prior restraint occurs when someone not on the publication/media staff requires pre-distribution changes to or removal of student media content.

“In the real world …” Hiestand wrote, “experienced, trained advisers that work closely with their students, offering suggestions for improvement — often after reading the content ahead of time — can be a valuable and welcome resource, something the JEA recognizes in excluding such ‘advising’ from its definition of prior review. But even advisers, the definitions recognize, can go too far, and ‘when an adviser requires pre-distribution changes over the objections of student editors,’ the definition states, ‘his/her actions then become prior restraint.'”

Check jeasprc.org soon for recommendations on how advisers can assist students without making decisions for them or requiring them to make changes they don’t want to make.

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Playing in the court of public opinion

Posted by on Apr 25, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Students and friends of student media in Washington’s Puyallup school district are ready to take the next step in their fight against prior review since a jury declared they had not invaded students’ privacy and the school had no liability in a story about oral sex.

Their next fight will be in the court of public opinion.

Student journalists in the three schools have set up a Facebook site in preparation for an organizational meeting May 3 to urge local schools to drop prior review from Puyallup publication policies. The site has 300 plus friends.

They also have a Twitter site.

They are psyched and have T-shirts, buttons and flyers.

They have talked to Henry Rome, 2009 JEA Journalist of the Year who, with other students in his community started a website to convince his school not to implement prior review.

The Friends of the Spoke won. The Conestoga High students also presented a session at the Portland JEA/NSPA convention  about how others could duplicate their feat. Rome also addressed the convention about their fight. Their website also has information on the resources they used in an effort to change the board’s views.

Now, the Puyallup students will try to do the same.

Check out their website. Join their cause. Consider such action if you face prior review.

Prior review – which leads only to prior restraint –has no educational value. Help end it in Puyallup’s schools.

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Next steps

Posted by on Apr 17, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

This week, at the JEA/NSPA convention in Portland, the press rights commission has taken several initiatives:

• Involving, for the first time 45words, its student partners group
• Designing a working definition of prior review and prior restraint of scholastic media
• Participating in a Skype discussion with a lawyer about a Washington State case that might involve the future of the open forum concept.

In a meeting today, the commission will look at new projects and initiatives, which will most likely start with:
• Developing a series of FAQs to go with the prior review definition to help advisers and others understanding the workings of that definition
• Beginning discussion on a Webinar involving 45words students and others in outreach and action plans that would educate communities about the dangers and educational consequences of prior review and restraint.

But we would like to have your input: What would you like to see the commission, JEA and other scholastic journalism groups examine in terms of legal and ethical issues that would most help you and your journalism programs and communities?

We would love to hear from you so we can sharpen our vision of how best to serve the interests of all involved with scholastic journalism.

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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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Just this once

Posted by on Mar 1, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

In the 1970s, the American Library Association released a film for use in schools called The Speaker. The film dealt with multi-level decision making concerning free speech.

One line sticks in my mind: Just this once.

As in “what’s wrong if just this once we stop someone from speaking.”

Over the years, this translated into the realm of prior review: so what if just this once the principal prior reviews student media. Who is harmed? What is lost? How will it hurt? Who will care?

And, after all this time, journalism advisers and teachers do not have an common answer for the issues surrounding prior review.

For some, prior review gets teachers off the hook. It is a safety cushion where someone else takes the responsibility for decisions made.

For some, tolerating it or embracing it means a job. In this economy one almost cannot blame them.

For some, prior review means following commercial media when the publisher sometimes can say yay or nay to content.

For these and other reasons the scholastic journalism community has, for far too long, been unwilling to really confront this elephant in the room of journalistic learning.

Now, though, we are seeing more and more fruits of allowing just this once as it applies to prior review:

• Solid programs with solid advisers are falling to the spread of prior review. The latest is in Minnesota.
• Prior restraint, not a safer school or real educational growth, is the product of prior review.
• Administrators are starting to ask for proof that schools exist without prior review. Why?  Because they just don’t believe schools exist with review since that is what administrative consulting groups and school lawyers tell them. The latest instance of this comes from Colorado.
• Several administrative consulting groups across the nation, even though they don’t say they do, endorse in open or subtle ways administrative control of student media. Prior review. For self-protection. Because it is the safe thing to do.

Because the spread of prior review by those outside the staffs of student media is so extensive, so pervasive, we as journalism educators must do more than condemn this issue. We must raise challenges that ask:

• What are workable alternatives to prior review? And then create and distribute them.
• How do we show the practice has no educational value and in fact harms student educational growth? And model our beliefs.
• How do we show that truthful, accurate and complete reporting by student media cannot take place in an atmosphere of prior review? And showcase the solid programs where such reporting thrives.
• Does the risk of just this once dropping prior review outweigh administrative fears of students running amuck? And publicize the excellence of students, who without prior review consistently show their learning works.

Our goals should thus include:

• Clear demonstration, through the use of nationwide examples, that free and responsible student media means student decision making without prior review. Not responsible to mother school but to the idea of truth and serving the school’s various publics.
• Clear documentation that schools do prosper without prior review and that their numbers are substantial. We need to let each other know when our programs are public forums by policy or practice, and we need to do so proudly so those numbers make on impact on those who claim otherwise.
• Clear modeling to administrators that their best way to monitor student media is to hire qualified and caring advisers and teachers who empower students to grow by practicing what they are taught.

It is time to actively implement our beliefs, to remind those who support prior review they are wrong.

Just this once – before it is too late.

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