Working with a board-approved policy
Staffs should include the district policy in their staff manuals if available. If not, they should work towards reaching agreement with the administration and school board for a policy all can agree makes the most educational sense. Three examples of these board policies are available, each with that same basic premise but with increasingly more detail and explanation of philosophy. Each, however, begins with the statement that all student media are designated public forums where students make all content decisions.
It’s important to stick to the basics for the board-approved policies. If ethical or journalistic practice decisions are included in an official school policy, the limitations they describe take on a whole new significance. Now they are not just for the staff to enforce but, by implication, are provisions that school administrators could use to discipline a publication staff or adviser or even to censor content that they believe violates what is written. Including a subjective ethical determination in a school policy gives the school the ability to overrule the ethical decisions of student editors.
Lacking a board-approved policy, student media staffs should create one of their own. (LINK) Although this doesn’t have the legal weight of a board-approved policy, it should state the publication is a designate public forum for student expression where students make all content decisions. This shows how the media staffs operate and could show they are forums “in practice.” While not as solid a legal foundation as “in policy,” courts have recognized this as free speech protection under Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.
Students should understand that while they can and should adopt best practices and ethical guidelines for their publication, the school district’s or school board’s media policy (if one exists) could impact student editors’ ethical decisions. This reality does not preclude students from exercising their best ethical judgment. Rather, it is an incentive for students to advocate their role and a district-level policy that protects them.
Staff manual process
A student media staff manual should include copies of the school district or school board media policy as well as media editorial policy. Furthermore, the staff manual may provide procedures for students addressing the school administration in the case of a disagreement or policy confusion. Students should also consider including in the manual some guidelines for proposing policy changes to the school board or petitioning the district for a policy to improve on what they have (e.g., How does a student request to be put on the agenda for a school board meeting?).
• Obtain a copy of the school district’s media or student expression policy.
• Compare district policy to your staff procedure and identify potential areas for misunderstanding or conflict (e.g., the district policy includes more restrictions on student speech/press than actually occurs).
• Make a plan to advocate change in the district’s policy that would align it more closely with how the staff really operates.
• Recognize that student media staffs, not the adviser, are best suited to advocate their role. Advisers must navigate a difficult line as employee and should not be put in a position to defend student work.
• Consider advocating a state law that would protect student free expression rights.
Lesson: Developing a Presentation for Your School Board, Journalism Education Association
Rethinking Your Forum Status, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
What Do I Do When I’m Censored?, Student Press Law Center
Model Guidelines for High School Student Media, Student Press Law Center
Model Legislation to Protect Student Free Expression Rights, Student Press Law Center
JEA Model Editorial Policy, Journalism Education Association
Audio: Board Media Policies, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Audio: The Tinker Standard, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Audio: The Hazelwood Decision, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Audio: Combined Editorial Policy, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Understanding the Difference Between a School Board policy and Publication Policy/practice, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Deciding Which Forum Best Serves Your Students – and your Community, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Questions to Answer in Policy Development, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Philosophical Questions About Policy Development, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Importance of Designated Public Forum Status, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Other Policy Considerations, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
To return to Policy and Ethics sitemap, go here.