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Constitution Day is right time
to apply for FAPFA recognition

Posted by on Sep 17, 2018 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

by Lori Keekley, MJE
As advisers, we work to support student journalists on a daily basis.

Taking a moment today to apply for the First Amendment Press Freedom Award is a great way to symbolically show this support.

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Letters and commentary can enhance pubic forum role QT40

Posted by on Jan 5, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Publishing letters to the editor is another way of fulfilling student media’s forum obligations to engage audiences through journalistic responsibility.

That said, students should establish clear criteria for identifying the authors, receiving and verifying the information. Such viewpoint neutral guidelines do not violate the author’s free expression rights.

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages students host. They allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories students have written, topics covered, or issues in the school or their world concerning them.

Guideline:

Student media should accept letters to the editor or online comments from outside the staff to solidify their status as a designated public forum where students make all final decisions of content. This allows their audience to use their voices as well. Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them.

Stance:

Student media should welcome letters to the editor or commentaries as ways to engage your readers and diversify the published content.

Reasoning/suggestions:  

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages you host. They are usually 250 words or fewer and allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories you’ve written, topics you have covered, or issues in the school or their world that concern them.

Your guidelines should clearly spell out your process for accepting letters to the editor, and the editors still must maintain editorial control. Editorial control does not mean student editors do not publish something with which you disagree. In fact, students should use this opportunity to welcome differing viewpoints and voices. Making sure you have viewpoint-agnostic guidelines will help to ensure your staff makes well-informed ethical decisions regarding content.

Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them. Letting the authors make changes keeps the public forum status intact.

Other considerations:

  • A student editor must know the name of the author, and verify the response, even if the letter is published “name withheld by request.” False names or nicknames should not be published.
  • Each letter should be no longer than 250 words.
  • The source of emailed letters should be verified prior to publication.
  • Student staffs should strive to publish all letters received as part of the forum process.
  • Student staffs should develop a policy concerning staff member comments or letters to the editor. Such staffers have other avenues to express their opinions in their media, and this is not a common practice for commercial media.

Resources:

Star Tribune’s editorial pages

Letters to the Editor Policies

 

 

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Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism,
status as an open public forum

Posted by on Oct 30, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

 Dean v. Utica Community Schools, 2004

Quick Tip 25: Student First Amendment Rights

by Jan Ewell
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 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 that 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.

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.[link] Because it was a public forum and therefore under Tinker v. Des Moines 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.

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.” –– Harry S. Truman

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.

Resources:

Dean v. Utica Community Schools

Why Dean v. Utica is important

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Forum status of student media: Quick Tip1

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Legal issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments

 

Policy

If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Key points/action: In the post-Hazelwood world, it is more important than ever for student journalists and their advisers to know what policies their school has adopted relating to student publications or student expression.

Quick Tips are small tidbits of information designed to address specific legal or ethical concerns advisers and media staffs may have or have raised. These include a possible guideline, stance, rationale and resources for more information. This  is the first in the series. 

The language of those policies (whether they give editorial control to students or keep it in the hands of school officials) and the amount of freedom that students have traditionally operated under at the school can determine whether Hazelwood or Tinker sets the standard for what school officials will be allowed to censor.

A designated public forum is created when school officials have “by policy or by practice” opened a publication for use by students to engage in their own free expression.

Often the most important question in that analysis is which of two First Amendment standards they have to meet.

  • The Tinker standard (as defined by the case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969)), which says schools can censor only if their actions are necessary to avoid a material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion of the rights of others. This language may sound vague, but as the courts have interpreted it, the Tinker standard is a very difficult one for school officials to meet and typically requires them to show evidence of physical disruption before their censorship will be allowed.
  • The Hazelwood standard (as defined by the case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)), which says schools can censor if their actions are reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns. Although this standard requires school officials to justify every act of censorship as educationally sound, it is a standard that gives school officials more extensive authority to silence or punish student expression.

Stance: Of the three types of forums, open public, limited public and closed, JEA strongly endorses the designated (open) public forum concept.

In the Hazelwood case, the Court said it believed both the policy and practice at Hazelwood East High School reflected school officials’ intent to exercise complete control over the student newspaper’s content. That finding prompted the Court to say a designated public forum did not exist.

Student publications at other schools with different policies and different practices relating to editorial control can be public forums. Where student editors have been given final authority over content decisions in their publications or where a school policy explicitly describes a student publication as a designated public forum, the Tinker standard will still apply.

Reasoning/suggestions: If you’re developing a new policy, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

Two things are important about the phrasing of this policy statement. First is the use of the words “designated public forum” as opposed to “limited public forum” or other similar language. Although many once believed the two phrases were interchangeable, some recent court decisions have suggested that using the word “limited” opens the door to school censorship as permitted under Hazelwood.

Second, using the phrase “student editors make all content decisions” is in many ways a clearer restatement of the meaning of “designated public forum.” It conveys the intent behind the public forum phrase anyone unfamiliar with the relevant Supreme Court rulings should understand.

To help schools understand what we consider public forums, please note these definitions:

  • Forums by policy: An official school policy exists that designates student editors as the ultimate authority regarding content. School officials actually practice this policy by exercising a “hands-off” role and empowering student editors to lead. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.
  • Forums by practice: A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators have a “hands-off” approach and have empowered students to control content decisions. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.


Resources

When your publication is a public forum and when it is not, Mark Goodman, Knight chair in Scholastic Journalism

Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

 

 

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New research shows administrators know more about the First Amendment
but don’t fully grasp it

Posted by on Jan 6, 2014 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

A researcher at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio, surveyed public high school administrators about their First Amendment knowledge this fall and discovered that administrators may, in fact, know more than they think about the First Amendment.

However, Audrey Wagstaff Cunningham, assistant professor, said when tested on their knowledge of specific attributes, the majority did not have sufficient knowledge about the reporting of minors, nor did they understand the limits of administrative control over seemingly “inappropriate” content produced in a student publication.

Finally, many of the administrators surveyed did not recognize the public forum status available to student publications. This suggests that administrators may not fully understand the free speech rights of students as defined in major cases like Tinker v. Des Moines.

Likewise, if they know about Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, they may apply their knowledge incorrectly. In addition, administrators who are less knowledgeable about the First Amendment as it pertains to students are also more likely to try to censor students’ work.

“Many scholars and educators interested in scholastic journalism,” Cunningham writes in the paper, “have suggested that the censorship problem begins in schools, and is fueled by poor understanding of First Amendment freedoms (Student Press Law Center, 2006). This study, despite several findings being statistically insignificant, is meant to help illuminate the path to better understanding the administrative censorship phenomenon.”

You can download Wagstaff-Cunningham’s paper, which was accepted by JEA’s Certification Commission as her MJE requirement, here.

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