Pages Navigation Menu

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


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.

Check out the links, below, for more information on each activity. Feel free to make use of the materials anytime during the weeks before or after Constitution Day. They could be launching points for your own ideas to focus on student speech rights.

Understanding Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. (by Audrey Wagstaff, MJE): Explore the 2021 Supreme Court case “Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. (Levy),” affirming student off-campus free speech rights. Students will review arguments in the case as well as how it fits into the context of other student expression Supreme Court cases. (two days of lessons/activities)

Use a planning tool – Futures Wheel – to build better contextual, meaningful content (by John Bowen, MJE): Analyze the legal and ethical questions raised by coverage of a Memorial Day incident this spring in Hudson, Ohio. Leaders of the local American Legion Post turned off a former U.S. Army officer’s microphone when he mentioned freed Black slaves’ roles in events leading to Memorial Day. Student media can localize such issues, identifying important issues and social concerns using modern story planning tools. The result can lead to increased trust and impact and empowerment of student journalistic responsibility. (up to five days of lessons/activities)

Nurturing public discourse through social inquiry and communication (by Mark Dzula): Use excerpts from John Dewey’s “The Public and Its Problems” to challenge students to consider their role in nurturing the public in their school community. Discuss how to build a shared sense of the wide-ranging consequences of events in and around school as well as the importance of social inquiry and honest communication. (up to three days of lessons/activities)

Celebrating Constitution rights crossword competition (by Matthew Smith, CJE): Have students review their knowledge of rights protected by the Constitution and its amendments. Try framing it as a competition and extend the conversation to consider which rights are most important, today. (worksheet and one-day lesson)

Who made the cut? Start your school year with a Voices Audit (by Kristin Taylor, MJE) One of the highest callings of journalism is to “give voice to the voiceless.” Constitution Day is a great time for journalism staffs — digital, print or hybrid — to evaluate their coverage from the year before and see how fully they’ve met that goal.

In addition to this new material, check out our numerous lessons and activities from previous years: 20202019201820172016201520142013.

As always, for publications classes, this is also a great time to review student press rights particular to your community. How aware are your students of their own editorial policy? School board policy? Guidelines for ethical performance and meaningful, all-encompassing staff manual? How about the existence (or lack thereof) of a New Voices law? Are there ways your students could strengthen or improve their specific protections? You can always check out additional resources on this website or the Student Press Law Center.

If you have any feedback or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Matthew Smith ( 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)

Leave a Comment