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Constitution Day 2020


In a unique year featuring not only a world-wide pandemic but also mass protests, a presidential election and plenty of attempts at spreading misinformation, it’s as important as ever for students to understand their rights.

Constitution Day, observed Sept. 17 each year, celebrates the signing of the United States Constitution, and provides a perfect opportunity (either on that day or in the weeks before or after) to touch on our Constitutional rights, especially as they relate to Freedom of Speech.

This year, mindful of the particular challenges of 2020, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee has put together a series of lessons focusing on supporting student voices in the current environment. We have lessons on specific laws affecting student speech as well as materials touching on protests (and how to cover them), voting, election coverage and recognizing bias in the news.

Each provides opportunities for quick learning and discussion as well as options for exploring the topics in more depth over several days, even virtually. Check the more detailed descriptions and links for each, below.

Aside from the new lessons, this is an excellent time to touch base with students and with each other about the state of New Voices laws across the country, making sure you are aware of particular protections you may already have or particular movements in your state working to secure these protections. You may also wish to make sure students are aware of support available through the Student Press Law Center or look through their website for current examples and explanations of legal rights.

Protecting Student Voices (by Matthew Smith): Get your students competing to test their knowledge of specific laws, court cases that shape their speech and publication rights at school and the resources available to them. Additional suggestions are provided for discussion and applying the concepts to your specific school.

Expanding the First Amendment (by Kristin Taylor): Help students gain a better understanding of how state laws may expand student press rights beyond the First Amendment, as limited by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. Students will use to research their state’s New Voices status as well as explore the SPLC’s New Voices FAQ, evaluate the legality of their current press freedom and discuss next steps for personal action.

Protest and the First Amendment (by Audrey Wagstaff): Give students a better understanding of the legal protections of their right to protest as well as the importance of journalism in accurately covering them. Students will be able to review examples of protest coverage and best practices and will apply this knowledge to a variety of protest coverage scenarios.

Reporting elections: issues, candidates and making endorsements (by John Bowen): Move students through critical-thinking and decision-making processes for covering election stories that meet the needs of their community. By applying reporting procedures to important coverage, on a deadline, students learn to decide which races and issues to focus on and how.

Voting, Voice and the Constitution (by Mark Dzula): This unit introduces the 15th and the 19th amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments that respectively afforded black men and all women voting rights. The activities provoke analysis of primary documents (including historical newspapers), challenge students to consider voting rights in contemporary contexts, and encourage them to consider relationships between voice, activism, the press and voting.

Know Your News (by Michael Bjorklund): With the election year upon us, it’s getting harder for students to find factual, unbiased news. This lesson focuses on teaching media biases through the scope of identifying and analyzing media coverage.

Plenty of the lessons from past Constitution Day posts also remain relevant. Feel free to search through any of those: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

If you have any feedback or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Matthew Smith or Mark Dzula ( 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)
Michael Bjorklund, Columbia High (FL)

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