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Ancillary: Limits on scholastic journalism

Posted by on Jan 5, 2016 in Blog, Legal issues, Projects, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


Limits on Scholastic Journalism

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969)

The Tinker case stemmed from several students wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.  The school suspended the students for violating the dress code, which had recently been changed to keep students from wearing armbands in protest.  The Supreme Court ruled that students could legally protest the war under the First Amendment by wearing the armbands.  Justice Abe Fortas stated in Tinker, “students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  The Court denoted one major limitation to students’ First Amendment rights: teachers and administrators can censor any speech that could cause a serious disruption at school or invades the rights of others.

Bethel v. Fraser (1986)

Matthew Fraser delivered a speech for a friend who was running for student government.  The speech was laced with innuendo and double meanings.  Fraser was suspended, and he subsequently sued the school for having violated his First Amendment right to free speech.  However, the Supreme Court decided against Fraser, ruling that, while students can advocate political and other controversial viewpoints, the school maintains the ability to censor vulgar or indecent speech.  This case created the first of several exceptions to the Tinker decision: Under Bethel v. Fraser, vulgar or offensive speech inside the school building can be censored.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)

The Hazelwood case began at Hazelwood East High School in Missouri.  The student newspaper staff wrote articles about teen pregnancy and divorce, and the school’s principal decided to eliminate them from the publication.  The students sued, but they lost their case at the Supreme Court level.  The Court’s decision caused Knight (1988) to write that schools had regained control of publications created as part of a curriculum.  Knight went on to explain that individual students’ rights still fell under the Tinker precedent, but that any and all “school-sponsored or even school-related” speech could now be regulated by the school.  This decision created a second exception to the Tinker holding: in the words of Justice Brennan, “legitimate pedagogical concerns” can outweigh students’ First Amendment rights if the speech is school sponsored. Troublingly, several researchers pointed to the Hazelwood case’s wording, which invoked the schoolhouse gate passage in Tinker to defend its decision against student First Amendment rights.

Thus, after the monumental Tinker decision affirmed students’ First Amendment rights in school, the next two decades saw the Supreme Court use the wording of the Tinker decision to justify two further exceptions to student free expression rights.  From 1988 until 2007, students could express themselves under the First Amendment, provided the speech was not seriously disruptive or invasive (Tinker), vulgar, (Bethel) or school-sponsored (Hazelwood).

Key note for teachers and students:  Administrators (and courts) are not required to censor any type of unprotected student speech—they simply have the ability to.  Just because they can censor a type of speech (including the type you’ll see in the Morse case) does not mean they have to.

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Tweet23: Social media use requires legal, ethical guides

Posted by on Feb 5, 2013 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Legal issues, News, Projects, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Social media can be daunting. Know how journalism standards, legal and ethical principles apply. #25HZLWD

Social media are merely other tools in the arsenal of journalism. Social media offer student journalists much in the way of new approaches and coverage possibilities, but like all “new” communication tools of the past they also bring fear and unease. It is imperative that schools and their student media understand and rely on the “legacy” standards of professional journalism, legal and ethical. It is undeniable that new legal and ethical standards will develop, building on the old. Until they do, we can rely on what exists for essential guidance.hazelwoodcolor

More and more scholastic journalism programs rush to join the social media landscape, adding Twitter, Facebook and all types of other quick and digital ways to reach audiences with their coverage.

Some have even gone so far to call media prepared by non-journalists the fifth estate, replacing the fourth estate (to be henceforth called legacy media).

One has to wonder, though, whether the fourth and fifth estates will be that different, indeed, whether they should be that different.

The point, we must argue, is to keep and embellish the basics, the good, from the legacy media and surround it and enhance it with the multimedia approaches of the fifth estate.

In fact, we must also build our programs so they can embrace change and expand as new media emerges.

• Social Media Toolbox
• Social Media, the classroom and the First Amendment
• JEA online ethical guidelines



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A Teacher’s Kit for curing Hazelwood

Posted by on Jan 7, 2013 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, News, Projects, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Megan Fromm
January 13, 2013, we commemorate a bittersweet milestone in scholastic publications history: the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. This decision institutionalized censorship in most public schools in America, and our students have been publishing in its shadow ever since.


This month, JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission seeks to re-engage teachers, students, administrators and local media in a discussion about Hazelwood’s deleterious effects on civic education and scholastic journalism. Similarly, the Student Press Law Center’s “Cure Hazelwood” campaign is aimed at making the public aware of Hazelwood’s ill effects on our nation’s schools. Together, we hope to encourage administrators and policymakers to reconsider a stifling decision that has long plagued our education system.

We hope you will use, during the coming weeks, our Teacher Kit with resources, lesson plans, and calls to action to energize your students and staffs to learn more about—and ultimately take action against— Hazelwood.

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Students, the First Amendment and the Supreme Court

Posted by on Dec 29, 2012 in Blog, Hazelwood, Legal issues, News, Projects, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Jan Ewell
Permission granted to use at will for non-commercial purposes

The Bill of Rights and Schools

The First Amendment, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights, became the law of the land in 1791, but 216 years later in 2007 Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in Morse v. Frederick, “As originally understood, the Constitution does not afford students a right to free speech in public school.”hazelwoodcolor

Thomas was an originalist, one who interprets the Constitution and the Bill of Rights according to what the Founding Fathers—the original authors—intended.  Public education was virtually non-existent at the time. Thomas says the Founding Fathers did not intend the Bill of Rights to limit the power of schools and were not specifically concerned about the rights of public school students.

Fortunately for the student press, the other eight justices instead debated which First Amendment rights students should have.  They looked at past court decisions for precedents, that is, earlier rulings by the court, that set a rule or pattern for deciding similar cases.

The precedent for almost 100 years was the 1833 Supreme Court decision in Barron v. Baltimore, which said the Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government.  According to Barron, “Congress shall make no law” meant the United States government—Congress–could not make laws “abridging freedom of speech, or of the press.”  States and cities—and school districts–could and did make laws that established religions, and abridged free speech and freedom the press, and limited the right to assemble.  “A local school teacher was not Congress within the meaning of `Congress shall make no law,’” said David L. Hudson Jr. in Let the Students Speak!   Only the federal government was forbidden to make such laws.

The Supreme Court began to apply the Bill of Rights to the laws and practices of states starting in 1925 with Gitlow v. New York.  By 1965, in Gideon v. Wainwright, the court indicated that all forms of government—not just the federal government–were restrained by the Constitution and its amendments, including the Bill of Rights.  Public schools are a form of government.

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Fighting FERPA with facts

Posted by on Dec 5, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Projects, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Mark Goodman
As noted in the JEA SPRC blog in September, the Student Press Law Center is taking on schools that misuse FERPA in a new and powerful way.  Scholastic journalists can get in on the action.

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.  It’s the federal law enacted in 1974 to regulate the release by educational institutions of student “education records.”  FERPA sought to put an end to schools releasing student grades and other academic records without the student’s permission  (or the permission of parents if the student is a minor).  It also sought to ensure that students (and parents) had a right to see their own records maintained by the school. The penalty for non-compliance with FERPA is the risk of loss of federal funding.

But as many student journalists and advisers know, FERPA has become a monster, something much bigger than what its legislative sponsors ever intended. Over the years, schools have learned they can use the law as justification for refusing to provide all sorts of information they might rather not reach the media or the public.

From crime reports about college athletes to the signers of petitions submitted to a public school board, schools across the nation have used FERPA as the perfect excuse for denying information to the public.

The SPLC and advocates for open government are now saying, “no more.  Their FERPA Fact website chronicles the growing number of misuses of FERPA made by schools and exposes those that are inaccurate interpretations of the law.  The site is a great source of story ideas for scholastic journalists.

It also is a good reminder to high school reporters and editors not to presume every time FERPA gets thrown in their face, the justification is a valid one.

If FERPA has been used as a justification for denying your staff records maintained by your school, submit your story for a FERPA Fact “fact checking.”  You might get the arguments you need to counter your school’s denial.



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Yes, Common Core has room for law & ethics

Posted by on Oct 17, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Projects, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Candace Bowen

Like so many things, it’s good news and bad news. The Common Core State Standards actually may help us show how journalism has skills everyone should know, but in the process could we be losing support to teach the very framework necessary to use our voices in democracy?

In other words, where does teaching law and ethics fit with the new standards?

Nowhere that’s obvious, that’s for sure, but maybe we can find niches that aren’t so apparent.

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