Talking Points: Starting a discussion between advisers and administrators
to build the case against prior review, restraint
by Lori Keekley
Advisers and administrators should be partners in education, not adversaries.
Advisers must teach principals about the importance of journalism and its relevance to today’s curriculum as well as enlighten them about the pitfalls of prior review and restraint.
We’ve created these Talking Points, based in part on Quill & Scroll’s new version of The Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism (available in print from Quill and Scroll) to help advisers begin to build their cases for a strong, student-driven journalism program.
Most points are further referenced in the Principal’s Guide, which are the page numbers that appear following the main point. Others have links in which advisers can find more information on the topic, including links to the online version of The Principal’s Guide and materials from JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission.
Why are we doing this?
“Your principal is not a moron. He just doesn’t know anything.” Tim Dorway, Chanhassen, Minn. high school principal and Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission member told students at a National Scholastic Press Association’s workshop this summer.
Administrators can’t know everything — which is why we’ve developed this to help advisers clearly present the arguments for an unfettered student press, free of prior review and restraint. See definitions of prior review and restraint here.
Advisers need to outline and build a case against prior review and restraint prior to a conflict with administration. They also should discuss the importance of designated forum status as outlined here. By doing this, students can review the problems with prior review and educational value and legality of prior restraint before the request is made.
How to use these Talking Points
These items are intended as general in-person talking points and should not be used solely as “copy and paste” items for email correspondence.
By meeting in person with their administrators prior to a problem occurring, students and advisers can use some of these ideas to help discuss why prior review and prior restraint aren’t educationally or civically sound — and in some instances how they are illegal.
Additionally, advisers should also invite administrators into the publications room to see what happens not only in a traditional meeting time, but also during deadline night or even an editorial board meeting.
Most points are further referenced in The Principal’s Guide which are linked in this document. Others have links in which advisers can find more information on the topic.
If you have a point not found here, please email Lori Keekley or John Bowen. If you have an immediate censorship concern, please go to the Scholastic Press Rights Commission’s website and hit the Panic Button. Someone will contact you within 24 hours. We also recommend that your students contact the Student Press Law Center immediate legal assistance.
The comments in color italics below are some of the more common arguments administrators provide as reasons they request prior review or use prior restraint. We’ve included some possible discussion points to use below each. Again, these points are intended as discussion starters.
“By a school district official prior reviewing the content prior to publication, the administration can find problems before the publication is released.”
• When administrators support student freedom of the press, they can protect themselves from lawsuits, according to Yeo v. Town of Lexington (the eighth paragraph down discusses about the decision). This decision says schools are most protected from legal liability when they leave content decisions to students. (the 10th paragraph).
“But as the school administrator, I must make sure everything is correct in the publication, so prior review is good to do.”
“The administration is responsible for anything created at the school. Prior review is necessary.”
• For the same reason school administrators don’t conduct chemistry experiments or play quarterback, sound educational outcomes come from allowing student journalists to make content decisions – and not the administration or the adviser. (It’s the fifth paragraph down).
• Other pertinent court decisions (Tinker, Hazelwood, Bethel, Morse, and Dean) are also outlined in this Principal’s Guide chapter.
“According to the Hazelwood decision, we have the right to control content.”
• Ten states have enacted statutes that provide even stronger protection for public student journalists: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Maryland, Illinois and Oregon. (right after “Press freedom, defined by state law”) California also has enacted anti-retaliation legislation to protect teachers from being disciplined for refusing to control content (It’s the “state code” area).
• If your state isn’t one of the ten anti-Hazelwood states, administrators don’t have carte blanche in censorship. If the publication is a designated open forum by either policy or practice, public school students do have First Amendment rights. Private school students have these rights if their school has extended them.
• For more information concerning forum status, please see this link.
“Why should students have freedom of expression?”
• The Journalism Education Association has adopted strong policy statements that endorse student freedom of expression. (It’s the fourth paragraph down.)
• Other national scholastic journalism organizations such as the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, National Scholastic Press Association and Quill and Scroll also have policies or statements against prior review.
• No regional scholastic journalism organization accepts or approves of prior review as an educational tool. In fact, most have statements reflecting the lack of educational value attached to prior review, according to the Center for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University and JEA.
• Students can “Make a Difference” in their school and community. By empowering student voices, students can and do tackle issues of importance to the school and community and make an impact.
• Teaching news literacy develops critical minds, encourages active citizenship and meets Common Core state standards.
• In some states, prior review and prior restraint may prevent students from earning recognition for their work, which includes awards and scholarships.
“If you’re really teaching ‘real-world’ journalism, then as an administrator I’m only acting like the publisher of a media outlet.”
• An administrator or adviser is an agent of the state, which means this statement confuses non-parallel functions according to “A Closer Look at Prior Review.” Because of basic Freedom of the Press as guaranteed in the First Amendment, the press and government should be independent and not governmentally controlled. Additionally, once a government establishes an open forum, it cannot dictate content or direction.
• When administrators cite this as a prior review argument, advisers should state this action is similar to your local mayor reading and approving content prior to publication in commercial media.
“We bought some journalism textbooks last year, I assume you don’t need any other – expensive – workshops.” In terms of control based on cost reasoning.
• Administrators should entrust those they’ve hired to empower their journalism students. Administrators should encourage further professional development by advocating for attendance at scholastic journalism conventions and workshops — including attending themselves (supporting the adviser segment).
“I understand you think the program is important, but during times of budget constraints and an increase in state and federal demands we just can’t afford it.”
• Journalism benefits more than just those working on the publication. It creates media literate consumers and promotes news literacy in its audiences. The need for media-literate consumers, which includes the readers of the publications and producers, is pressing.
• The Common Core suggests students must be discerning, independent and open-minded thinkers. Educating students to be critical media consumers requires teaching students to apply news and media literacy skills to new and traditional media.
• For more information on the Six Principles behind news literacy, see this link.
• For more information on the Tenets of Responsible Student Journalism, see this link and here.
“The class numbers just aren’t there. I can’t afford to run a class for only X students.”
• Students learn to practice civic engagement. By practicing responsibility, reality and relevance, students learn and practice civic engagement. A sound journalism program helps develop this approach in journalists as well as community members.
• For more information, see this link.
• Readers and viewers practice civic engagement as well as student journalists. Student media creates student audience engagement too, and it creates an informed public.
• Publications students inform their fellow students and this helps the readers take an active role in discussions. This reader feedback helps determine and make future content decisions. Readers are able to respond directly by writing a letter to the editor.
• Journalism programs provide authentic learning experiences in which students make final decisions and take ownership of their actions by cultivating responsibility, reality and relevance.
“But we have so many standardized tests scores to worry about. The journalism program doesn’t help us here.”
• According to several studies, participation in high school media positively impacts scores.
• In High School Journalism Matters: Those with student media experience get better high school grades overall, outscore others on ACT tests, and earn higher grades in college, according to NAA Foundation’s study. (paragraph 5)
• In national surveys by the John S. and James L Knight Foundation, the Future of the First Amendment: Not only do students who participate in school media improve their basic academic skills, but they also understand more than other students about their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. (paragraph 6)
“Journalism does not matter because it has neither formal ties nor is it explicitly mentioned in Common Core State Standards, Partnership for 21st Century Skills or Career Technical Education.”
• Just the opposite is true. Journalism programs have natural, unforced ties to these educational initiatives. Scholastic journalism courses fulfill these requirements including Common Core State Standards Partnership for 21st Century Skills (4B) and Career Technical Education (4C)
“From what you’ve told me, only journalism organizations or those affiliated with journalism are illustrating the benefits of a program.”
• National Council of Teachers of English: Reaffirmed the value of journalism courses when it passed a resolution of support.
• The National School Board Association encourages student journalists to cover school board meetings. This coverage informs school and community members about school board policies. Such real-world reporting experience supports the school’s mission to promote college and career readiness in students.
• Journalism has natural ties to many educational initiatives such as Common Core Standards, Partnership in the 21st Century Skills and Career Technical Education.
• Additionally, journalism programs teach students how to be media-literate consumers.
What students say about their journalism experiences