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Expanding the First Amendment: State Laws and Student Voice

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Description: This lesson is intended to 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 SPLC.org to research their state’s status to see if it already has a New Voices law or an active New Voices campaign.  All students will explore SPLC’s New Voices FAQ to learn more about New Voices and evaluate how press freedom might change or impact their educational experiences. If they live in a state with a New Voices law, they will read it and evaluate the extent to which their experience of press freedom aligns with that law. If they do not live in a state with a New Voices law, they will pick a NV law to explore. All students will reflect on what they have learned from this process by evaluating the legality of their current press freedom and discussing next steps for personal action.


Objectives:

  • Students will be able to define what a New Voices law is and identify whether their state has one
  • Students will be able to describe a New Voices law and evaluate what it protects
  • Students will evaluate the degree of press freedom their school has currently, determine if any censorship they have experienced is legal and discuss personal next steps inspired by this lesson.

Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.4Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.2Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Length: 50-60 minutes; can be done live or modified for asynchronous learning

  1. Warm-Up: Probe for knowledge about student press rights in terms of the First Amendment and New Voices legislation (5 minutes)
  2. Context: Use SPLC’s First Amendment Rights of Public High School Student Journalists pdf to teach students about their specific state’s status and evaluate any censorship they’ve experienced. (10 minutes)
  3. Independent or paired research: New Voices FAQ and investigation of specific state laws (15-20 minutes)
  4. Student processing/discussion (10-15 minutes)

Assessment: Reflection paper or video synthesizing today’s lesson and personal next steps.

Materials/Resources:

From SPLC.org 

Lesson Step-by-Step:

Note: To make this lesson asynchronous, you can record a short video using an application like Loom for steps 1-2, pausing to allow students to record their thoughts and responses to questions you would normally ask in class.

  1. (5 minutes) Probe students for knowledge about the First Amendment and how it applies to the student journalists. Ask questions such as:
    1. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. Does that apply to high school students? (See what they say; then clarify that it does, but that those rights in school have been somewhat limited by Supreme Court case rulings, especially Tinker v Des Moines and Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier).
    2. Did you know states can provide additional protection of their First Amendment Rights? (See how many students do.) Does anyone know what those laws are called? (New Voices laws)
    3. Does our state have a New Voices law? (Don’t tell them the answer right away; tell them they will find out in today’s lesson.)
    4. Under what circumstances does a public school official in our state have the right to censor student media? (This is a good opportunity to hand them markers and ask them to run up to write them on the board or use a poll such as “Poll Everywhere” to collect responses. Don’t tell them the answer; tell them you will ask them the same questions in a few minutes, and they should be able to answer with confidence.)
  2. (10 minutes) Distribute (physically or as a PDF in a remote setting) the First Amendment Rights of Public High School Student Journalists pdf from SPLC. 
    1. Have students follow the chart to find out their current state’s status and under what circumstances a school leader can legally censor. You may need to define what a “public forum for student expression” is or provide that link for them to define themselves.
    2. Ask students to write down or share with a partner what they now think the correct answers are for opening questions c and d. 
    3. Check for understanding by asking students to share what they now think and explain their reasoning. Provide the correct response based on your state and forum status.
  3. (20 minutes) At this point, your lesson will go in different directions based on your state’s status. All students will complete step one; students then will follow a different path depending on whether or not they live in a state with a New Voices law.

STEP ONE:

All Students: If you haven’t already introduced students to the Student Press Law Center, explain that they are an independent, non-partisan group of lawyers and legal experts who work “to promote, support and defend the First Amendment and press freedom rights of high school and college journalists and their advisers”  — for free! Students and advisers can reach out to SPLC for confidential legal advice about press freedom. If they are interested in getting involved in New Voices legislation, they should reach out directly to Hillary Davis at hdavis@splc.org.

Direct students to open the Student Press Law Center’s New Voices FAQ and spend 5-10 minutes exploring the questions they most want to understand and taking notes in whatever form works best for them.

STEP TWO:

If they live in a New Voices state: Direct students to open the SPLC’s main New Voices page: https://splc.org/new-voices/. Students should scroll down to find the law relevant to their state. Give students 10 minutes to read and take notes on that law.

If they do NOT live in a New Voices State: 

  1. Share or direct students to open the Student Press Law Center’s New Voices page: https://splc.org/new-voices/. Students should first scroll down below the 14 protected states to see if their state has an active New Voices campaign. If so, they can see if there’s more information about that campaign and read about it.  
  2. All students should then scroll back up and pick one of the New Voices state laws to read. Give students 10 minutes to read about any active campaign and/or read another state’s law.
  1. (10- 15 minutes) Ask students to share what they have learned. This can happen in a number of ways, depending on your current classroom status, such as the following:
    1. Discussing in small groups / breakout rooms on a platform like Zoom
    2. Recording their thoughts on FlipGrid; watching and responding to classmates’ videos
    3. Journaling or adding to a class discussion board (physical or digital)
  2. With any remaining time, assign a reflection paper for homework to be collected at the beginning of the next class period. See assessment below.

Assessment: Write a 1-2 page reflection paper or 2-minute video that includes the following:

  • A brief overview of what you learned about New Voices laws and if your state has one
  • A brief description of our state’s New Voices law if we have one OR what you learned about another state’s New Voices law
  • Your evaluation of censorship of student media at your school — have you seen or experienced censorship? If so, do you think that censorship is legal based on the First Amendment Rights of Public High School Student Journalists?
  • Describe the impact of this lesson on your understanding of New Voices and any next steps this lesson makes you consider for personal action. If our state has a New Voices law, how can you spread awareness about it? Do our school policies align with that law? If our state doesn’t have a New Voices law, are you interested in advocating for one? What actions could you take as a result of what you’ve learned today?

Rubric:

Exceeds expectationsMeets expectationsApproaching expectationsDoesn’t yet meet expectations
New Voices overviewBriefly, accurately describes what a NV law is and whether your state has one; description is nuanced and clearBriefly, accurately describes what a NV law is and whether your state has oneAttempts to describe what a NV law is; may have minor misunderstanding or fail to discuss your state specificallyDoes not describe NV laws or contains major misunderstanding about them or about state status
One state’s New Voices lawBriefly, accurately describes a specific New Voices law; description is nuances and clearBriefly, accurately describes a specific New Voices lawAttempts to describes one state’s New Voices law; response is incomplete or unclear.Does not describe a specific NV law or contains major misunderstanding
Evaluation of student media at our schoolDescribes press freedom status at your school and evaluates whether any censorship you’ve experienced was legal; uses specific examples and clearly links to existing law.Describes press freedom status at your school and evaluates whether any censorship you’ve experienced was legal; examples may be broad rather than specific.Attempts to describe press freedom status at your school and evaluate whether any censorship you’ve experienced was legal; response is incomplete or unclear.Does not describe or evaluate school press freedom status or contains major misunderstanding
Description of next stepsDescribes the impact of this lesson on your understanding of New Voices and any next steps this lesson makes you consider for personal action; description is nuanced and clearDescribes the impact of this lesson on your understanding of New Voices and any next steps this lesson makes you consider for personal actionAttempts top describes the impact of the lesson or potential next steps but response is incomplete or unclear.Does not describe impact or next steps.

Differentiation:

If you wish to break this lesson into two days, you could dive deeper into SPLC’s resources to explore Tinker v. Des Moines and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier in more depth before doing a lesson on how state laws can expand student free expression. 

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