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Becoming a public forum for student expression


The importance of public forums in student media


All student media publications should strive to be a “public forum for student expression” in order to be granted more protection under current free press laws.


What is a “public forum for student expression?” Why is it important for student media outlets to be designated as such?

Key points/action:

  • A “public forum” implies that the publication is set up as an open forum for expression. This ultimately means any person with an opinion can be published/broadcasted in the media outlet (through letters to the editor, call ins, etc.). This “openness” to the public is important because the publication is then elevated from a closed student publication to a place where community discussion and debate can occur,
  • and those democratic ideals hold more legal protection.
  • A “public forum for student expression” is a forum where student editors have been given the right to make final content decisions.
  • Public forum = a forum where anyone has a right to add to the discussion


All student media outlets should declare themselves “open forums for student expression” in their editorial policy and should open expression rights to the public (by allowing letters to the editor, etc.). Students should also truly make all final content decisions, thus transferring the legal responsibility of the publication, in theory, to the students.


What does this mean for student journalists? 1.) they should publish any letter to the editor they receive, as long as it does not classify as unprotected speech and follows established publication guidelines, in order to establish the publication as truly an “open forum”; and 2.) somewhere within their editorial pages, a condensed editorial policy should be published with each issue establishing the publication as a “public forum for student expression where students make all decisions of content.”

Directions for how readers can submit letters to the editor should also be published, as well as clarifying statement that student editors make all final content decisions.

Bottom line: Forum status matters, especially for schools not protected by state free press laws (like New Voices). It may be the only legal protection students have in a court of law.


Related: Tinker Standard, Tinker v. Hazelwood, Unprotected Speech



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