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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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Citizenship in the United States: Lesson Plan for Constitution Day 2019

Posted by on Aug 14, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


A recent Gallup poll suggests that a record 27% of U.S. American citizens believe immigration is the most important issue we as a country face. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlines what we call “birthrightcitizenship,” which has sparked much debate as of late. Those not born in the United States or its territories can apply for citizenship, and part of this process involves passing a citizenship test that many birthright citizens could not likely pass.

In this lesson, students will examine the history of ratifying the Constitution, the addition of the Bill of Rights, assess their own Constitutional 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.


  • Students will ascertain why some states debated the initial ratification of the Constitution.
  • Students will test their own knowledge of the Constitution by answering questions that appear on the current citizenship test.
  • Students will critique recent news stories and op-eds about the current debate surrounding citizenship and immigration. 

Common Core State Standards the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain. information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


90 minutes

Document for handout: CSDAY2019 (PDF)

Materials / resources

Links to stories provided on the second page of the document: 


Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — 30 minutes

Distribute the handout for the students and explain that they are to follow each portion from 1-7-8-7 — ask them to pause before beginning the last 7. Note: Encourage them to answer the questions on their own first (without the aid of classmates or other resources).

Step 2 — 45 minutes

Ask the students to read one or two of the articles (time permitting) by visiting the links provided. Encourage them to take notes about the content of the article, perspectives presented, references to the Constitution and its amendments, and potential biases they can identify.

Step 3 — 45 minutes

Discuss articles the students read, and then encourage them to read the remaining articles. You may add extra time for further discussion.

Ask students to locate additional articles for discussion. Journalism advisers: encourage your staff to brainstorm/explore the issue of citizenship in future coverage.


Students who may not have studied this material previously may be encouraged to use textbooks or the Internet to answer the questions on the first page of the activity. In addition, you may wish to divide students into small groups to read one article each and then summarize it for the class.

For past Constitution Day materials, go here.

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Be a leader in Year of the Student Journalist

Posted by on Sep 2, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier contributes to people’s inability to trust journalists since much of what today’s society grew up with as journalism appeared in student media. There, journalists often battled censorship, prior review or intimidation. 

When that’s what the media carried – incomplete information that conveniently omitted unfavorable details or saw entertainment as news, then that’s what fledgling citizens came to expect from commercial media.

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Suggestions for student media mission, legal, ethical and procedural language

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


Model Staff Manual: Use Constitution Day as a way to compare your staff policies and guidelines — or use it for students to craft their own — to our sample staff manual.

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.

Remember, adapt these guidelines and samples to fit your locality and needs, and:

  • Give credit for ideas you adapt
  • Don’t just copy someone else’s policy, ethical guidelines or statements. Think about what the models say, what they mean to you and your communities. Clearly separate policy from ethical guidelines and procedures that carry out this process of building a foundation
  • Words can mean different ideas to different people. To King George III of England the colonials were terrorists; to Americans, the British army were oppressors and Washington was a hero. Clarify your mission, policy, ethical guidelines and procedures so they have common and precise meanings
  • Ask us questions about using the manual concept for all your media. Integrated, the mission, policy, ethical guidelines and procedures form the foundation of responsible journalism.

Clearly separate policy from ethical guidelines and procedures that carry out this process of building a foundation.


Sample mission statement:

_____________ (school name) student media provide complete and accurate coverage, journalistically responsible, ethically gathered, edited and reported. Student-determined expression promotes democratic citizenship through public engagement diverse in both ideas and representation. 

Sample board policy statement (others are at link as well):

[NAME OF SCHOOL] student media are designated public forums in which students make all decisions of content without prior review by school officials.

Sample editorial policy:

 “[NAME OF STUDENT MEDIA] are designated public forums for student expression in which students make all final content decisions without prior review from school officials.”

Role of student media:

The NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION has been established as a designated public forum for student editors to empower, educate and advocate for their readers as well as for the discussion of issues of concern to their audience. It will not be reviewed or restrained by school officials prior to publication or distribution. Advisers may – and should – coach and discuss content during the writing process. 

Because school officials do not engage in prior review, and the content  of the NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION is determined by and reflects only the views of the student staff and not school officials or the school itself, its student editorial board and responsible student staff members assume complete legal and financial liability for the content of the publication. 

Electronic media (including online, broadcast and podcast media) produced by NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION students are entitled to the same protections – and subjected to the same freedoms and responsibilities – as media produced for print publication. As such they will not be subject to prior review or restraint. Student journalists use print and electronic media to report news and information, to communicate with other students and individuals, to ask questions of and consult with experts and to gather material to meet their newsgathering and research needs. 

NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION and its staff are protected by and bound to the principles of the First Amendment and other protections and limitations afforded by the Constitution and the various laws and court decisions implementing those principles. 

NAME OF PUBLICATIONPRODUCTION will not publish any material determined by student editors or the student editorial board to be unprotected, that is, material that is libelous, obscene, materially disruptive of the school process, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, a violation of copyright or a promotion of products or services unlawful (illegal) as to minors as defined by state or federal law. Definitions and examples for the above instances of unprotected speech can be found in Law of the Student Press published by the Student Press Law Center. 

The staff of the NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION will strive to report all content in a legal, objective, accurate and ethical manner, according to the Canons of Professional Journalism developed by the Society for Professional Journalists. The Canons of Professional Journalism include a code of ethics concerning accuracy, responsibility, integrity, conflict of interest, impartiality, fair play, freedom of the press, independence, sensationalism, personal privacy, obstruction of justice, credibility and advertising. 

The editorial board, which consists of the staff’s student editors, OR HOWEVER THE DECISION IS MADE will determine the content, including all unsigned editorials. The views stated in editorials represent that of a majority of the editorial board. Signed columns or reviews represent only the opinion of the author. NAME OF PUBLICATIONPRODUCTION may accept letters to the editor, guest columns and news releases from students, faculty, administrators, community residents and the general public. 

Content decisions:

Final content decisions and journalistic responsibility shall remain with the student editorial board. NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION will not avoid publishing a story solely on the basis of possible dissent or controversy.

The adviser will not act as a censor or determine the content of the paper. The adviser will offer advice and instruction, following the Code of Ethics for Advisers established by the Journalism Education Association as well as the Canons of Professional Journalism.

JEA Adviser Code of Ethics, Role of the adviser

Role of the adviser

The adviser will not act as a censor or determine the content of the paper. The adviser will offer advice and instruction, following the Code of Ethics for Advisers established by the Journalism Education Association as well as the Canons of Professional Journalism. School officials shall not fire or otherwise discipline advisers for content in student media that is determined and published by the student staff. The student editor and staff who want appropriate outside legal advice regarding proposed content – should seek attorneys knowledgeable in media law such as those of the Student Press Law Center.

Ethical guidelines

Letters to the editor (if accepted by staff):

We ask that letters to the editor, guest columns or other submissions be 300 words or less and contain the author’s name, address and signature. All submissions will be verified. 

The NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION editorial board reserves the right to withhold a letter or column or other submission and return it for revision if it contains unprotected speech or grammatical errors that could hamper its meaning. Deadlines for letters and columns will be determined by each year’s student staff, allowing sufficient time for verification of authorship prior to publication. 


Staff members will strive to correct errors prior to publication; however, if the editorial board determines a significant error is printed, the editorial board will determine the manner and timeliness of a correction. 


The NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION editorial board reserves the right to accept or reject any ad in accordance with its advertising policy. Electronic manipulations changing the essential truth of the photo or illustration will be clearly labeled if used. The duly appointed editor or co-editors shall interpret and enforce this editorial policy. 

Ownership of student work:

Absent a written agreement indicating otherwise, student journalists own the copyright to the works they create. Each media outlet should ensure it has clear policies in place for staff members and the publication that spell out ownership and the right of the publication to use student work.

Controversial coverage:

Final content decisions and responsibility shall remain with the student editorial board. NAME OF PUBLICATION/PRODUCTION will not avoid publishing a story solely on the basis of possible dissent or controversy. 

Prior Review:

Sources do not have the right to review materials prior to publication. Allowing sources to preview content at any stage of production raises serious ethical and journalistic practice questions. Reporters, following media guidelines or editor directions, may read back quotes that are either difficult to understand, unclear or may need further explanation.

Take down demands:

SCHOOL NAME student media is a digital news source, but it is still part of the historical record. STUDENT NEWS MEDIA NAME’S primary purpose is to publish the truth, as best we can determine it, and be an accurate record of events and issues from students’ perspectives. Writers and editors use the 11 “Put Up” steps before publication to ensure the validity, newsworthiness and ethics of each article. For these reasons, the editorial board will not take down or edit past articles except in extraordinary circumstances.

If someone requests a takedown, the board may consider the following resourcefor questions and actions.

Regardless of the outcome, the Editor-in-Chief will respond in writing to the request explaining the board’s action(s) and rationale for the final decision.

Unnamed sources:

Journalism is based on truth and accuracy. Using unnamed sources risks both of those standards. For that reason, students should seek sources willing to speak on the record. Unnamed sources should be used sparingly and only after studentsevaluate how the need for the information balances with the problems such sources create.

Occasionally, a source’s physical or mental health may be jeopardized by information on the record. In this instance, journalists should take every precaution to minimize harm to the source.


In the event of the death of a student or staff member, a standard, obituary-type recognition will commemorate the deceased in the newspaper and online news site. A maximum one-fourth page feature, or similar length for each obituary, should be written by a student media staff member and placed on the website within 24 hours and in the newspaper at the bottom of page one.

For the yearbook, if the fatality happens prior to final deadline, the staff might include feature content as the editors deem appropriate. For those unofficially affiliated with the district, the editor(s)-in-chief should determine appropriate coverage, but should not include an official obituary.

For more information

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Understanding and Promoting Student Press Rights

Posted by on Aug 14, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


Freedom of Speech rights, especially when it comes to students in any sort of student publication, can be very complex, but there are some overall principles that can lead to a solid understanding of the basics. This lesson provides details and background on what rights student journalists generally possess, gives resources for understanding how any local policies affect those rights and supplies scenarios and links to promote further discussion and involvement.


  • Students will understand the specific sources of the rights of student journalists.
  • Students will recognize the most important details to consider when seeking to determine their own rights.
  • Students will appreciate what can be done to solidify and promote student press rights further.

Common Core State Standards

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.


Approximately 50 minutes


Presentation: Student Press Rights Presentation

Handout: Student Press Rights Scenarios

Handout: Student Press Rights InDepth Response

Activity/lesson Step by Step

Step 1 — Introduction/Pre-Quiz (10 minutes) 

Briefly introduce the topic of student rights by testing students on the five questions at the start of the presentation. You may call on students for each possible answer for each one or require all students to write possible answers before revealing and discussing them.

Step 2 — Presentation (25 minutes) 

Work through the middle portion of the presentation, attempting to come to a somewhat clear outline of what rights student journalists have. Feel free to invite discussion or ask for comments from students about what might work or not work or about what they know about their own school board and publication policies.

Step 3 — Scenarios Groups and Full-Class Discussion (15 minutes) 

Have the scenarios printed out and cut up into squares, and then have students in groups (or individual, if preferred), discuss the scenario they have been handed. After a few minutes, guide them to discuss their thoughts to each scenario one at a time, following the order in the presentation. (You may also just have the entire class discuss each one as a class.) The goal should be to find ways to apply the specifics laid out earlier in the presentation and to get into specifics about how you school does or should operate. There is not necessarily a single, correct answer to find.


If you have more time, you or the students may also visit some of the links throughout the presentation for more information or search for and discuss your own school board’s student publication policy and/or your publication’s editorial policy.


Look through responses to the “Student Press Rights InDepth Response” (explained, below, under “Extension”) for more specific and individual assessment.


You may use the “Student Press Rights InDepth Response” handout to force students to grapple in more depth with a more specific scenario. These can be completed and turned in individually and discussed, later, to see what different students thought and what reasoning they used.

You may have students write an op-ed piece about the importance and/or place of student journalists and student press rights and submit to the Student Press Law Center for its“Year of the Student Journalist” celebration:

If you have additional time or class periods, it would be excellent to guide your students through the creation of improvement of a publication editorial policy or through greater understanding of their own school board policy. If deemed necessary, students could contact the SPLC or the New Voices movement or the JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee to look for assistance/advice on getting the school board to improve its student publications policy, if deemed necessary.

For past Constitution Day materials, go here.

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