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Tweet2: Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine

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Which forum? Best prescription to cure Hazelwood is open forum for student expression.

http://jeasprc.org/choosing-forum…-best-medicine/ #25HZLWD

Establishing your student media as open forums for student expression – not closed or limited forums – can make a huge difference in developing a cure of Hazelwood. The best forum is like preventative medicine. The worst is like being exposed to active disease cultures. The information and resources below can help you on the road to wellness.hazelwoodcolor

The information below is broken into several categories:
• Deciding which forum best serves your students – and your community
• Importance of  designated forum status
• Questions to consider when setting up your forum status
• Questions to ask those who want to limit the forum
• Additional resources (Forum definitionsList of designated open forumsCSJ Forum PowerPointCSJ Forum Application)

Deciding which forum best serves your students – and your community

Forums come in three types: closed, limited and open. In a closed, and in some limited forums, freedom of expression does not have to be allowed. In some limited forums and in an open forum, freedom of expression, hence civic responsibility, is the cornerstone.

An example of closed is a PTA newsletter. The owner of the forum can control its content. Censorship is allowed. Little learning about the role of a free press in a democracy would take place. Little learning about the various roles of journalism would take place.
• Students have no expectation of freedom of expression.
• Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
• Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
• Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
• Hazelwood applies.

A limited forum can be limited to whatever the establisher of the forum wants it to be: a forum for sports coverage, for example. It can be reviewed, or not reviewed, by the originator’s designation. If reviewed, the owner of the forum has all the legal responsibility and control. If not reviewed, the students, for example, could be designated as being in charge and enjoy the freedoms and bear the responsibility. A good many student media fall into this category where school districts trust their students, their advisers and their curriculum. Students learn about the media’s role in a democracy, and about their own civic responsibility. If education about the media’s role in a democracy and learning critical-thinking and responsibility are the school’s mission, then the second type of limited forum is used.

Limited-closed:
• Students have no expectation of freedom of expression
• Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
• Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
• Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
• Hazelwood applies.

Limited-open:
• Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.
• Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.
• Students should expect to create original material.
• Students should expect to make decisions.
• Tinker applies if no prior review.

The third category is an open forum, much like speakers’ corner in the United Kingdom. Anyone can speak, and the school (government) bears no legal responsibility. Schools can designate student media as open forums by policy or practice. This is noted within the Hazelwood decision, as is a limited open forum with student decision-making control.

Within the open and limited forums, students would certainly not publish any materials they found to be unprotected speech — libel, obscenity, material disruption of the school process (Tinker guidelines), unwarranted invasion of privacy and copyright infringement. Students would be taught this through a journalism curriculum by a trained adviser or through workshops and seminars available to an extracurricular publication.

Open forums:
• Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.
• Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.
• Students should expect to create original material.
• Students should expect to make decisions.
• Tinker applies if no prior review.

Importance of  designated forum status
1. There is no requirement that any government agency establish a forum of any kind.
2. But once a government does establish a forum, it cannot dictate the content of that forum.
3. Jurisprudence sees three types of forums: open, limited, closed.
4. The closed forum is a place that traditionally has not been open to public expression. Examples, in schools, could be newsletters or other means of communication not open to public use. So long as restrictions are reasonable and not based on a desire to suppress certain viewpoints, the government may close public access to them.
5. The open or traditional public forum is a place with a long history of expression, such as a public park or street corner. The government can only impose content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions on speech in this forum. To override the open, public forum status, the government would have to show a compelling interest.
6. The limited forum has the most problematic history. It is a place with a limited history of expressive activity, usually only for certain topics or groups. A meeting hall or public-owned theater are examples. The government may limit access when setting up a forum but may still not restrict expression unless there is a compelling interest. Schools, as government institutions, may, by “policy or practice,” open student media for indiscriminate use by the public or some segment of the public.
7. A designated public forum enables students to make decisions of content, thus empowering them to practice critical thinking and civic engagement roles.
8. Educational value of the designated open forum is mirrored by the fact most schools have mission statements identifying these as essential life skills for students to learn while in school.
9. Prior review and a lack of trust in the product (students) schools are expected to produce undermines the very missions school officials say are among their most important.
10. Studies have clearly shown that students, and communities in general, do not understand the importance of the First Amendment. One reason may be that students are not allowed to practice what they are taught while in schools and thus do not believe the theories of the democratic system.

Questions to consider when setting up your forum status
1. What is the importance of a forum for student expression? What does it help teach students and how can it help with a school system’s commitment to excellence?
2. What are the pluses and minuses of a school establishing an open forum for student expression? What are educationally valid ways to prevent the minuses?
3. What kind of research and expert opinion is available about the types of forums? What anecdotes and examples exist to help a system decide which one is the best for it?
4. What are the pluses and minuses – educational and legal – for establishing a closed forum? How does it affect student learning, community knowledge and support for education?
5. What are the pluses and minuses – educational and legal – for establishing an open forum? How does it affect student learning, community knowledge and support for education?
6. What are the pluses and minuses – educational and legal – for establishing a limited forum? How does it affect student learning, community knowledge and support for education?
7. Educators feel the designated public forum is the best choice for many reasons. What are negative factual anecdotes, stories, that can balance this view?
8. Why do schools emphasize critical thinking and civic engagement in their mission statements? How do each of the three forum examples interact with school mission statements? What arguments can be made against scholastic journalism that interfere with or prevent student accomplishment of those missions? How can those negatives be best overcome?
9. What legitimate educational mission does prior review accomplish? How can the “fact” that prior review inherently leads to censorship be prevented? How can a community be best convinced that prior review does not interfere with or preclude the free flow of accurate information?
10. What are the most effective ways for a school system to show its students and its communities the working, real value of the First Amendment through its handling of student media?

Questions to ask those who want to limit the forum
1. Collect all the documentation you can find to demonstrate why you believe your publication has been operating as a designated public forum.
2.  Ask administrators why they are objecting to/changing your public forum status (and try to get their response in writing). Try to keep the communication channels open so you and students know the reasoning and details.  Pay special attention to any statements they make suggesting their actions were in response to something the publication published.
3. Obtain a copy of the replacement language for the policy if whoever is making/suggesting a change has replacement language.
4. Find out whether the changes come from the board of education or from administrators. If the board, did it make the changes in an open meeting? If it has not made the decision yet, when will it and can discussion occur?
5. See if you can find out if and how administrators or the board is receiving legal assistance. Also find how, and if, these people have handled similar cases or incidents before. Being aware of their arguments might enable you to anticipate and counter them.
6. Know your state’s education codes and state student free expression laws. It is possible you have language that can protect you.
7. Call SPLC to report the move and ask for guidance.
8. Seek and prepare individuals and groups (from students, parents, commercial journalists and possibly even a local attorney — preferably one who understands scholastic media law) to ask questions, voice concerns and to be observers of the process.
9.  Prepare a process to keep the discussion about change in the public’s eye.

Additional resources/links:
• Forum definitions
• List of designated open forums
• CSJ forum PowerPoint
CSJ forum application

 

 

 

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