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2017 Constitution Day lessons

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Featured, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Constitution Day 2017 is approaching, and several members of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee have come together to provide you with materials to help your students understand their rights and responsibilities. These lessons provide particular focus on the First Amendment and the freedom of speech in general, but they would be appropriate and effective in any class that touches on issues related to history, the Constitution, citizenship or journalism.

Since Constitution Day (Sept. 17) is on a Sunday this year, we’d suggest celebrating on the following Monday. For a quick preview of this year’s lessons, feel free to watch this video. Links are also provided, below, to the new materials as well as lessons from previous years that might be particularly useful.

This year’s lessons:

First Amendment School Dialogue, by Jeff Kocur: Guide your students through a class-sized (or whole-school) dialogue about the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Students will identify and evaluate the impact of the First Amendment in their own lives and the lives of others.

The Importance of an Independent and Active Press, by Matthew Smith: Expose students to the many possible benefits of independent media in a democracy through quotes and video excerpts of world leaders espousing the necessity of a free press. Students will evaluate and discuss their own reaction to these arguments.

Introduction to News Literacy, by Kristin Taylor: The freedom of speech and of the press come with responsibilities, too, and this lesson provides materials for recognizing different types of news media and coverage. Students will examine the credibility of news sources as well as examine their own media habits in order to beef up their news diets and avoid “fake” news.

What’s in Your State Press Law?, by John Bowen and Lori Keekley: As New Voices laws spread across the country to protect student journalists, help your students understand what their state does or does not cover when it comes to student press rights. Students will examine their own law and create a dialogue with stakeholders about the benefits of protecting student publications.

Sharing Your State Law with Others, by John Bowen and Lori Keekley: State laws protecting student press rights mean nothing if students, administrators, school boards and others don’t know what they mean or how they impact the community. For this lesson, students will create an action plan for the various groups in their community about the state legislation.

Previous lessons:

Materials from previous years are obviously still available and relevant. The links, below, take you to the full list of lessons from each year, but we’ve also provided a quick suggestion of a lesson from that year that might work particularly well with the new batch we created.

2016 (Check out the lesson on exploring and discussing the gray area between political correctness and free speech.)

2015 (Check out the Constitution of the United States Crossword for a quick hit.)

2014 (Check out the lesson asking students to evaluate what to do when people ask them to remove content already published or posted in a student publication.)

2013 (Check out these materials forcing students to evaluate the ethical considerations involved when stories or information could be highly controversial or harmful.)

Feel free to send any feedback or questions to Matthew Smith ( or Jeff Kocur (

Constitution Day Committee

John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)

Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School (MN)

Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)

Matthew Smith, CJE, Fond du Lac High School (WI)

Kristin Taylor, CJE, The Archer School for Girls (CA)


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Constitution Day 2020

Posted by on Aug 19, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


In a unique year featuring not only a world-wide pandemic but also mass protests, a presidential election and plenty of attempts at spreading misinformation, it’s as important as ever for students to understand their rights.

Constitution Day, observed Sept. 17 each year, celebrates the signing of the United States Constitution, and provides a perfect opportunity (either on that day or in the weeks before or after) to touch on our Constitutional rights, especially as they relate to Freedom of Speech.

This year, mindful of the particular challenges of 2020, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee has put together a series of lessons focusing on supporting student voices in the current environment. We have lessons on specific laws affecting student speech as well as materials touching on protests (and how to cover them), voting, election coverage and recognizing bias in the news.

Each provides opportunities for quick learning and discussion as well as options for exploring the topics in more depth over several days, even virtually. Check the more detailed descriptions and links for each, below.

Aside from the new lessons, this is an excellent time to touch base with students and with each other about the state of New Voices laws across the country, making sure you are aware of particular protections you may already have or particular movements in your state working to secure these protections. You may also wish to make sure students are aware of support available through the Student Press Law Center or look through their website for current examples and explanations of legal rights.

Protecting Student Voices (by Matthew Smith): Get your students competing to test their knowledge of specific laws, court cases that shape their speech and publication rights at school and the resources available to them. Additional suggestions are provided for discussion and applying the concepts to your specific school.

Expanding the First Amendment (by Kristin Taylor): Help students gain a better understanding of how state laws may expand student press rights beyond the First Amendment, as limited by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. Students will use to research their state’s New Voices status as well as explore the SPLC’s New Voices FAQ, evaluate the legality of their current press freedom and discuss next steps for personal action.

Protest and the First Amendment (by Audrey Wagstaff): Give students a better understanding of the legal protections of their right to protest as well as the importance of journalism in accurately covering them. Students will be able to review examples of protest coverage and best practices and will apply this knowledge to a variety of protest coverage scenarios.

Reporting elections: issues, candidates and making endorsements (by John Bowen): Move students through critical-thinking and decision-making processes for covering election stories that meet the needs of their community. By applying reporting procedures to important coverage, on a deadline, students learn to decide which races and issues to focus on and how.

Voting, Voice and the Constitution (by Mark Dzula): This unit introduces the 15th and the 19th amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments that respectively afforded black men and all women voting rights. The activities provoke analysis of primary documents (including historical newspapers), challenge students to consider voting rights in contemporary contexts, and encourage them to consider relationships between voice, activism, the press and voting.

Know Your News (by Michael Bjorklund): With the election year upon us, it’s getting harder for students to find factual, unbiased news. This lesson focuses on teaching media biases through the scope of identifying and analyzing media coverage.

Plenty of the lessons from past Constitution Day posts also remain relevant. Feel free to search through any of those: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

If you have any feedback or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Matthew Smith or Mark Dzula ( Thank you!

Constitution Day Committee
Matthew Smith, CJE, Fond du Lac High School (WI)
Mark Dzula, the Webb Schools (CA)
Kristin Taylor, CJE, The Archer School for Girls (CA)
John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)
Audrey Wagstaff, MJE, Wilmington College (OH)
Michael Bjorklund, Columbia High (FL)

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Introduction to Constitution Day 2019: lessons and more

Posted by on Aug 18, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


Constitution Day is right around the corner: Tuesday, Sept. 17. This celebration of the signing of the United States Constitution is the perfect time to touch on our rights and responsibilities, especially as they relate to freedom of speech. The Scholastic Press Rights Committee has you covered, once again, with a collection of lesson plans and activities. Check out this year’s featured lessons and feel free to use the material in whatever manner is best for your class and your students.

Citizenship in the United States (by Audrey Wagstaff): Have students examine the history of ratifying the Constitution and Bill of Rights, assess their own knowledge by answering Constitution-specific questions from the current citizenship test, and read/discuss recent news stories and opinion pieces about the great citizenship debate.

Evaluating Political Ads (by Megan Fromm): Involve students in understanding and evaluating political advertisements. They will consider ethical dilemmas and create advertisements of their own.

Free speech vs. hate speech: What’s protected? (by Susan McNulty): Social media has provided a platform for anyone with an internet connection to post their views on any topic imaginable. Protesters have the right to hold signs and convey their beliefs in public places. But what about hate speech? Should certain ideas and messages be silenced? 

Understanding and Promoting Student Press Rights (by Matthew Smith): Guide your students through an understanding of their rights as student journalists and where these rights originate. Also, touch on how students can promote and expand these rights.

Resources for Working on Student Free Expression Legislation (by Lori Keekley): Make use of a collection of resources and examples from around the country to promote New Voices legislation in your state.

Suggestions for student media mission, legal, ethical and procedural language (by Lori Keekley): Originally presented to the 2019 Adviser Institute in New Orleans, this material provides important models that can be adapted of essential mission, legal, ethical and procedural language for student media.

Also, be sure to check out resources provided by the Student Press Law Center, including its Year of the Student Journalist ideas. In particular, consider having your students write and submit an op-ed about why student press freedom is important (try using some of our featured lessons from previous Constitution Days to build background and appreciation, such as this one from 2017 on the importance of an independent and active press).

And finally, congratulations to Gillian McMahon from West Linn High School in West Linn, Oregon, for taking first place in the Constitution Day Logo Contest and creating our 2019 Constitution Day design. Excellent work by all students who submitted entries!

For past Constitution Day materials, go here.

If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to reach out to Matthew Smith or Jeff Kocur.

Thank you!

Constitution Day Committee
Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School (MN)
Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)
Matthew Smith, CJE, Fond du Lac High School (WI)
Audrey Wagstaff, MJE, Wilmington College (OH)
Megan Fromm, MJE, Grand Junction High School (CO)
Susan McNulty, CJE, J. W. Mitchell High School (FL)

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Showcase principles of Constitution Day,
apply for this year’s FAPFA Awards

Posted by on Sep 17, 2016 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Constitution Day focused student journalists on power of free expression for scholastic media.

Your students can continue to recognize the  importance of First Amendment practices and policies – and be recognized for it – by applying for this year’s FAPFA award.

This First Amendment Press Freedom Award recognizes high schools that actively support, teach and protect First Amendment rights and responsibilities of students and teachers. The recognition focuses on student-run media where students make all final decisions of content without prior review.

Roughly, here’s a sample of what the judging committee looks for in determining FAPFA recipients:

  • No prior review or restraint by school faculty for all student media.
  • Student staffers make all final decisions of content for all student media.
  • Establish policies at all student media and school system levels or both as public forums for student expression.
  • Remove Internet filters for student journalism use
  • Students, advisers and administrators agree on First Amendment practices, philosophy and application across platforms.

As in previous years, schools compete for the title by first answering questionnaires submitted by an adviser and at least one editor. Those who advance to the next level will be asked to provide responses from the principal and all media advisers and student editors, indicating their support of the First Amendment. In addition, semifinalists submitted samples of their school and media online or printed policies that show student media applying their freedoms.

Schools recognized as meeting FAPFA criteria will be honored at the opening ceremony of the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Seattle.

First round applications are due annually by Dec. 1. Downloadable applications for 2017 will be available on the JEA website in the fall.

Save this link and apply now. Even if your school received the recognition, you must re-apply yearly.

Meet the challenges raised by Constitution Day. Apply to be a FAPFA-recognized school.

This is the 17th year for the award.

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Celebrate roles student news media can bring to a democratic society; honor, envision and practice free speech

Posted by on Aug 20, 2021 in Blog | 0 comments


JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee hopes to help you and your students celebrate their free speech rights this year. Constitution Day, observed on Sept. 17 each year in commemoration of the signing of the United States Constitution, is an excellent time to do it. 

This year we provide lesson materials ranging from exploring impactful, recent Supreme Court cases to applying the democratic political philosophy of John Dewey and how to use modern planning tools to improve coverage. 

We have a quick Constitution-review crossword as well as an additional blog post to help you and your students audit if your coverage was as comprehensive as you’d like.

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