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Resources for working on student free press legislation

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

Several students, including Lukas Levin, make signs to promote the 2018 Minnesota New Voices campaign.

For Constitution Day, we created a resource for those working on state student free expression legislation. This resource can take stakeholders through the stages of the process. 

We hope this blossoms into a robust resource area. Samples are included for many items, but please remember, these are samples of what others have done. It is not a best practice to use them as your own. Your information should be specific to your state and should include issues of concern to your legislators. 

• This Google Drive includes the following:
Writing the legislation
Finding a sponsor
Organizing advocates
Preparing for the long process Citizenship
Building the case for legislation
Lobbying with students and following up
Educating all before and after bill passage

If you have questions or something to add to this resource, please send it to
I wish you the best in this legislative season.
Lori Keekley, SPRC director

Students from Stillwater Area High School allying the corridor to the State Senate and House chamber during the Minnesota Lobby Day. 

For past Constitution materials, go here.

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Five steps for a great start to the school year

Posted by on Aug 1, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


The typical to-do list of journalism teachers during the back to school season often includes setting up the newsroom, prepping lessons, attending professional development days and coordinating with editors and staffers. Whether that list lives in a mobile app, Google Doc or pretty new notebook, it’s usually a long one.

But adding these five things to the teacher to-do list will make for a great experience all year long. A little extra planning and outreach in August builds a foundation for students and colleagues that truly sets the tone for student press freedom, positive working relationships and increased awareness on campus.

Consider these for a great start:

  1. Get on the school calendar now for Constitution Day. Administrators often develop a list of upcoming events to distribute at staff in-service, for the school website, for parent communications and for posting on social media. Make sure Sept. 17 is listed, and begin the conversation with key partners on your campus about what activities you’ll plan and implement. Check out JEA’s set of Constitution Day lessons and activities here.

  2. Meet with any new teachers and staff members on your campus. Ideally, you can carve out a few minutes to introduce yourself and share about the student media program you advise. Who knows what journalism was like that their previous schools? Drop off copies of the students’ publication so your new colleagues can see what a great job students do. With just a brief conversation you can create the beginning of a positive relationship and help them understand that your students make the content decisions and take their roles as reporters seriously with a focus on truth, accuracy and integrity. If possible, invite them to stop by your room to see the media staff in full swing. 

    If possible, guide your editors as they prepare a brief introduction to new staff members, too. It’s great for new teachers to see students taking the lead, especially so they learn to contact students with story ideas or questions rather than coming to you.

  3. Incorporate the First Amendment in your welcome back activities. Make these part of any icebreakers, bootcamp sessions, editors’ planning meetings and other gatherings you have lined up for the next month. Incoming editors will follow your example; if you use law and ethics discussions as part of your first meet-up or work session together, they’ll do the same when training their new staff members.

    Even simple warm-ups like singing, rapping or reciting the First Amendment or using related T-shirts (like this one or this one) as special prizes will set the tone for a new school year. One simple activity in teams is to distribute envelopes containing the 45 words of the First Amendment on little slips of paper and having a race for each team to put the words in order correctly.
Quick warm-up activities like this one can help students learn the First Amendment while getting to know each other in small groups.

4. Add the First Amendment Press Freedom Award application to your editors’ to-do list. They’re probably in the process of determining the publication/distribution dates and deadline nights for the semester, so the timing is perfect for them to add the Dec. 15 application deadline. As we all know, what gets scheduled gets done. And having the award on their radar may lead to positive, necessary conversations from editors and staffers to educate their classmates, teachers and administrators throughout the fall.

5. Commit to teaching law and ethics. Plan lessons both for the start of the school year and to incorporate periodically all year long. Don’t rush into production with all attention on deadlines only to have students miss the significance of what they’re doing. Don’t apply a “one and done” unit in the first month and consider students’ learning complete. As you map out a scope and sequence, plan to revisit and layer important topics related to student press freedom and their rights and responsibilities.

The Law and Ethics module in the JEA Curriculum Initiative is a great place to start. You also can print the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics for classroom use, or contact them to request a class set of bookmarks. The Student Press Law Center has great resources for educators, too. The key is to plan now and make it a recurring topic for discussion, reading, analysis, debate and/or practice in your journalism curriculum.

With a strong foundation and continuous practice, students make better, more informed decisions.

An adviser’s First Amendment passion is contagious, and the time invested now to accomplish these five tasks will pave the way for students and colleagues to follow your lead.

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Seems like you never know … until it’s too late

Posted by on May 20, 2019 in Blog, Ethical Issues, New Voices, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Candace Bowen, MJE Your principal is a good one who answers questions for your news staff and encourages your yearbook staff to tell what really happened this year. Even Twitter and Instagram have not been a problem for your journalism students.

Sure, you and your staff share stories with your principal when they cover sensitive topics. Yes, you’ve asked her views on quotes from other sources. So what? She’s a good administrator, and you’re just being thoughtful. What’s wrong with that?

Maybe plenty.

But let’s back up a bit. An early May discussion strand on the JEAHELP email distribution list centered around a former New Jersey adviser who is now suing her district for not allowing her to tell the real story about prior review and censorship at her school in 2017.

A junior who wore a t-shirt saying, in large letters: “TRUMP: Make American Great Again” in his yearbook photo ended up with a plain navy shirt in the published version. In the ensuing brouhaha, the district would not let adviser Susan Parsons tell the REAL story: New Jersey online said, “Parsons claims the district routinely forced her to edit yearbook photos to alter anything that could be controversial, from words on T-shirts to hand gestures to students not wearing shirts on a school trip.”

This time community members were so upset, Parsons received death threats and says she is now afraid to go out in the community – largely because she has not been allowed to defend herself and point out the true censors were administrators, or, in this case, she says, a secretary acting on the principal’s behalf.

The JEAHELP listserv posts that followed information about this incident covered a wide range of viewpoints. One said, “Prior review can be a positive thing in a friendly environment,” admitting, however, it is “a slippery slope.” 

Others argued the chilling effect of prior review almost makes it unnecessary to have true censorship – prior restraint – because students either are afraid to publish something they think might upset their administrators or worry that what they do will negatively impact their favorite teacher. 

Then one said exactly what I was thinking at the time: When has prior review ever been good from an educational standpoint? When has it taught good critical thinking skills? When did it help students become better media consumers or understand media’s role as the Fourth Estate, the very necessary check on governmental power? When did it lay down the foundation for future journalists, for those in student media who wish to have this as a career?

Then one said exactly what I was thinking at the time: When has prior review ever been good from an educational standpoint? When has it taught good critical thinking skills? When did it help students become better media consumers or understand media’s role as the Fourth Estate, the very necessary check on governmental power? When did it lay down the foundation for future journalists, for those in student media who wish to have this as a career?

But some kept arguing they had good relationships with their administrators and gave examples of times a really thorough discussion with the principal or others helped students understand a problem.

Fine. But that principal may not be at your school next fall. 

According to the National Education Policy Center,“Only about one-half of newly hired middle school principals remained at the same school for three years, while only 30 percent remained at the high school level for three years. After five years, less than one-half of newly hired middle school principals remained, and only 27 percent of high school principals.”

In other words, that understanding man or woman behind the principal’s desk may be replaced before you know it by someone whose legal training isn’t as First Amendment-based and whose biggest concern is the school’s image, not how much its students learn. 

Having a policy of prior review with that administrator won’t be a chance to discuss and learn more. It will be the very opposite of good education, but you’ll have little chance to change things then. After all, the prior review policy would have already been in effect.

Having a policy of prior review with that administrator won’t be a chance to discuss and learn more. It will be the very opposite of good education, but you’ll have little chance to change things then.

So don’t even give any administrator an idea to start down that slope.  It could lead to a law suit like Susan Parsons has filed. And, definitely, it wouldn’t be the best way for your students to learn.

A good resource to use:
What to tell your principal about prior review?

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When ‘trickle down’ goes beyond economics

Posted by on May 15, 2019 in Blog, Ethical Issues, News | 0 comments


by Stan Zoller, MJE
In recent history, the idea of “trickledown economics” is something attributed to the late Ronald Reagan, who occupied the White House from 1981 to 1989. 

However, the roots of a “trickle down” policy allegedly had its roots planted by the late humorist Will Rogers who reportedly referred to the theory that cutting taxes for higher earners and businesses was a “trickle down” policy.

While “trickle down” has seemingly been, as noted, associated with economics, recent actions by the White House press office, specifically White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, should be a concern to journalism educators.

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What to tell an administrator who seeks prior review

Posted by on May 12, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


The Porn-worker and Bear Creek High School

by Jan Ewell, MJE

The district administration of the Lodi Unified School District demanded prior review of a story the paper was writing about an 18-year old student, estranged from her parents, who was working in the porn industry while finishing her senior year. 

The adviser, Cathi Duffel, and her principal both refused, though they submitted the article to an independent attorney to check for slander or obscenity, two of the exceptions to California’s Education Code, which otherwise grants editorial control to the students. 

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Activities based on media coverage of high school of student working in adult industry

Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Lessons, New Voices, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


by John Bowen, MJE
In my last blog we discussed the importance of fighting prior review, and noted its use is growing, even in states with state legislation protecting student expression.

To emphasize the issue, we highlight recent review attempts with the Bruin Voice of Stockton, California, and related reporting about the student story.

You have a link to the story and multiple links to commercially reported information. To study the original story and reporting on it, we provide possible starting questions for discussion of the concept of review itself and how other reporters covered the original story.

By doing this, we hope not only to create critical thinking about prior review and about how such topics are reported.

The Bruin Voice

Media that reported the story

Writing about teenager who makes sex videos, school paper becomes the news

Bear Creek student newspaper’s controversial story will run as planned

Students express support for Bear Creek newspaper after controversial story publishes

Profile of student porn worker allowed to run in Stockton high school newspaper

Q&A: Teacher facing possible firing over student sex worker profile

Story on high school porn performer sparks censorship clash

District relents, allows Stockton school paper to run story about student in porn

Reporting and information gathering questions

• What are differences in the coverages?

• Are any questions unanswered? What, and who could be additional sources?

• What, if any, bias shows through in reporting, word usage, sources, approach?

• What information is missing? What sources could have provided it?

• Was the best lead used? If not, what alternatives might have been better?

• What background was used? What could have been used?

• What were coverage strengths? Weaknesses?

Legal and ethical questions

• What ethical issues did the reporter(s) have to address?

• What legal issues should be addressed? Were they? If addressed was the reporting accurate, robust and complete?

• Should topics like the Bruin Voice piece be reported by scholastic media? Discuss the legal and ethical issues and how you might handle them?

Our last blog: Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

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