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Help administrators know what “N.V.” means

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by Stan Zoller, MJE

When you see the letters “N.V.” in the context of scholastic journalism, you hopefully realize they refer to “New Voices” legislation that 14 states have passed so scholastic journalists can practice free and responsible journalism without concerns. 

Or dare I say, fear of prior review, prior restraint or censorship.

Unfortunately, there appears to be a resistance by some school and district administrators toward this initiative who think “N.V.” should stand for “No Voices.”

For more New Voices Talking Points go here

Which, to say the very least, is unfortunate.

When administrators flex, or try to flex, their administrative muscles to seemingly bully student journalists and/or their advisers the reality is this. 

It’s a lose-lose proposition.

It does, sadly, appear visions of control is becoming more commonplace as district and building administrators flock to school district attorneys as well as professional associations that serve school boards.

From their perspective, control seems like a logical step, but in the end, puts scholastic journalists, advisers and other stakeholders who support scholastic journalism on a collision course.

School board members and district administrators are, in essence, challenging students and advisers to cross that proverbial line in the sand as if to say “we dare you to do something.”

They’re challenging advisers to risk their jobs by challenging authority while students may seem to be at risk of getting a blemish on their high school record because they are passionate about maintaining a free and responsible student media.

It’s a difficult position to be in. Want to call it bullying? Why not. 

Rather than rationally discuss issues with advisers and student journalists, the czars who run school districts and high schools do little more than puff out their chests and flap their wings.

There’s no business-like show business. It would not surprise me if some school board presidents and district superintendents have pictures of Alexander Haig on the wall with his pronouncement that “I’m in charge here” adorning the picture.

If they live and die solely by the almighty flow chart that “puts them in charge,” they’re missing the boat.

Students prepare a New Voices hearing

If education administrators still subscribe to the fact student achievement is paramount to the success of high school students, they should deflate their chests, put their wings at their sides and roll up their sleeves and work with those involved in student media.  A novel idea.

When it comes to New Voices legislation, there are, I believe, several ways this can happen.

If student journalists in your state consider a New Voices law, or have one pending, get your superintendent, school board and principal involved. Let them know what the body of the bill is and what the arguments both pro and con are. 

If your local state legislator supports a New Voices bill, arrange a meeting between the lawmaker and district officials to gain their insights. School officials do not like to face a mandate. They also do not like surprises.

For those advisers in states with New Voices laws, it’s essential, I believe, to let administrators know what the bill says and why it was crafted this way.

For those advisers in states with New Voices laws, it’s essential, I believe, to let administrators know what the bill says and why it was crafted this way. 

It is a good foundation on which student publication policies can be revised. Pre-emptive communications may come in handy before an issue arises. Proactivity is far less painful than reactivity.

In either case, don’t try and storm the Bastille alone. Both the Student Press Law Center and JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee have outstanding resources to support you and offer tips on how you can be proactive in educating administrators about the New Voices initiative. 

Also, look for local advocacy groups that may be willing to work on your behalf. Local advocacy and support can provide a little extra strength as it comes from the home turf.

Speaking of the SPLC, one person who needs to be at the top of your list is Hillary Davis. Davis joined SPLC in October as the New Voices advocacy and campaign organizer.

It will be Davis’ focus, as well as that of everyone at the SPLC and JEA’s SPRC to make sure that N.V. will always stand for New Voices because despite what some administrators may think, student journalists do have voices. 

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