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Forum status of student media


This online lesson guides students through the basics of forum status for student media and the specifics of how it applies to student media. A statement of forum status is an essential part of a staff manual.


  • Students will demonstrate understanding of forum theories for student media.
  • Students will compare and contrast the forum theory concepts with journalism principles, ethics and mission.
  • Students will discuss and select a forum theory statement to pair with their mission, editorial policy and ethics statements.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.6Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.10Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grades 11-12 here.)


Based on individual needs

Materials / resources

When your publication is a public forum and when it is not

Choosing your forum status is like choosing the best medicine

Forum status of student media

Resources for teacher background

Model guidelines for policy choices

Easy access to policy models

What should go into an editorial policy? What should not?
Student media policy may be the most important decision you make

Suggestions for student media mission, legal, ethical and procedural language

Introducing a staff manual package to build a foundation for journalistic responsibility

Edit policy sets forum status

Ethics codes are invaluable in student journalism, but not as guide for punishment

How to use this guide for ethical use of staff manuals

Model for ethical guidelines

Takedown demands

Muzzle Hazelwood with strong journalism status as an open public forum

Talking points on prior review and restraint

Dealing with unwanted, forced prior review?

Prior review v. prior restraint

Understanding the perils of prior review and restraint

Prior review imposes ineffective educational limits on learning, citizenship

Guidelines, recommendations for advisers facing prior review

JEA defines prior review

Lesson step-by-step

Presentation – Day 1

The teacher will share this link with students. Students will have read this before class time. The teacher will also share this information:

• In the post-Hazelwood world, it is more important than ever for student journalists and their advisers to know what policies their school has adopted relating to student publications or student expression. 

The language of those policies (whether they give editorial control to students or keep it in the hands of school officials) and the amount of freedom that students have traditionally operated under at the school can determine whether Hazelwood or Tinker sets the standard for what school officials will be allowed to censor.

Three types of forums are open public, limited public and closed.

• A closed forum: An example of closed is a PTA newsletter. The owner of the forum can control its content. Censorship is allowed. Little learning about the role of a free press in a democracy would take place. Little learning about the various roles of journalism would take place.

• Students have no expectation of freedom of expression.

  • Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.
  • Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.
  • Students should have no expectation of decision-making.
  •   Hazelwood applies

• A limited public forum: A limited forum can be limited to whatever the establisher of the forum wants it to be: a forum for sports coverage, for example. It can be reviewed, or not reviewed, by the originator’s designation. If reviewed, the owner of the forum has all the legal responsibility and control. If not reviewed, the students, for example, could be designated as being in charge and enjoy the freedoms and bear the responsibility. A good many student media fall into this category where school districts trust their students, their advisers and their curriculum. Students learn about the media’s role in a democracy, and about their own civic responsibility. If education about the media’s role in a democracy and learning critical-thinking and responsibility are the school’s mission, then the second type of limited forum is used.


• Students have no expectation of freedom of expression

• Students should have no expectation of learning news or objective journalism.

• Students should have no expectation of creating original pieces.

• Students should have no expectation of decision-making.

• Hazelwood applies.


• Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.

• Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism.

 •Students should expect to create original material

• Students should expect to make decision

 • Tinker applies if no prior review.

• An open public (designated) forum:  The third category is an open forum, much like speakers’ corner in the United Kingdom. Anyone can speak, and the school (government) bears no legal responsibility. Schools can designate student media as open forums by policy or practice. This is noted within the Hazelwood decision, as is a limited open forum with student decision-making control.

Open forums:

 • Students have an expectation of freedom of expression.

 • Students should expect to learn news or objective journalism

  • Students should expect to create original material.

 • Students should expect to make decisions.

 • Tinker applies if no prior review.

 Activity 1

Students will decide which of the following statements they would prefer for their student run media (keeping in mind the various platforms of print, broadcast, yearbook and digital should be under the same policies and their staff manual reflect that), and why they made that choice. 

Students will write their choice on the discussion board Student Media Forum Statement the teacher created. Students should choose the forum carefully and refer to it in the policy section of your staff manual. It might also play a role in development of Mission statement.

Statement 1: All school-sponsored student publications and productions are XXXXXXX forums.  While students may address matters of interest or concern to their readers/viewers, as XXXXXXX forums, the style and content of the student publications and productions can be regulated for legitimate pedagogical, school-related reasons.  School officials shall routinely and systematically review and, if necessary, restrict the style and/or content of all school-sponsored student publications and productions prior to publication/performance in a reasonable manner that is neutral as to the viewpoint of the speaker.  Legitimate pedagogical concerns are not confined to academic issues but include the teaching by example of the shared values of a civilized social order, which consists of not only independence of thought and frankness of expression but also discipline, courtesy/civility, and respect for authority.  School officials may further prohibit speech that is grammatically incorrect, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences.

Statement 2: [NAME OF SCHOOL] student media are designated public forums in which students make all decisions of content without prior review by school officials.

Freedom of expression and press freedom are fundamental values in a democratic society. The mission of any institution committed to preparing productive citizens must include teaching these values and providing a venue for students to practice these values, both by lesson and by example.

As preservers of democracy, our schools shall protect, encourage and enhance free speech and the exchange of ideas as a means of protecting our American way of life. (This choice can be supported with other students that enhance or explain the position)

Statement 3: The Board designates all school-sponsored student media, with the exception of those originating from classrooms or educational settings not otherwise directly associated with student publications and productions, as XXXXXXX forums whereby students can address matters of concern and/or interest to their readers/viewers. (Under this policy student journalists, content-creators and/or performers involved in these publications/productions have the right/or do not have the right to determine the content of the student media. Social media could be blocked/not blocked, depending on board decision) 

Activity 2

After students have chosen and sent their statements to the teacher, the teacher can distribute this information to students Or, save it for another lesson, say on what goes into a policy statement and what does not:

Importance of designated forum status

  1. There is no requirement that any government agency establish a forum of any kind.
  2. But once a government does establish a forum, it cannot dictate the content of that forum.
  3. Jurisprudence sees three types of forums: open, limited, closed.
  4. The closed forum is a place that traditionally has not been open to public expression. Examples, in schools, could be newsletters or other means of communication not open to public use. So long as restrictions are reasonable and not based on a desire to suppress certain viewpoints, the government may close public access to them.
  5. The open or traditional public forum is a place with a long history of expression, such as a public park or street corner. The government can only impose content-neutral time, place and manner restrictions on speech in this forum. To override the open, public forum status, the government would have to show a compelling interest.
  6. The limited forum has the most problematic history. It is a place with a limited history of expressive activity, usually only for certain topics or groups. A meeting hall or public-owned theater are examples. The government may limit access when setting up a forum but may still not restrict expression unless there is a compelling interest. Schools, as government institutions, may, by “policy or practice,” open student media for indiscriminate use by the public or some segment of the public.
  7. A designated public forum enables students to make decisions of content, thus empowering them to practice critical thinking and civic engagement roles.
  8. Educational value of the designated open forum is mirrored by the fact most schools have mission statements identifying these as essential life skills for students to learn while in school.
  9. Prior review and a lack of trust in the product (students) schools are expected to produce undermines the very missions school officials say are among their most important.
  10. Studies have clearly shown that students, and communities in general, do not understand the importance of the First Amendment. One reason may be that students are not allowed to practice what they are taught while in schools and thus do not believe the theories of the democratic system.

These definitions should help you understand public forums:

  • Forums by policy: An official school policy exists that designates student editors as the ultimate authority regarding content. School officials actually practice this policy by exercising a “hands-off” role and empowering student editors to lead. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.
  • Forums by practice: A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators have a “hands-off” approach and have empowered students to control content decisions. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content.


Students should use their answer as the focus for a short position paper:

            • In no more than 150 words, craft a position statement why their choice would be best for all their audiences. Submit to the teacher for comment and further use.

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