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‘Passion project’ brings forum policy, student decision making through process, trust


by John Bowen, MJE

What a private school adviser called a “passion project” for journalism students and herself during the pandemic became a model for other schools, public and private, to work to limit the damage censorship brings to education.

What they successfully developed is an example of a process designed so a school has a method to avoid conflict over student media content and viewpoint leadership by building a process through discussion and trust.

When done, they had established a Statement of Policy for student media at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Rockville, MD. They worked with administrators, advisers and Mark Goodman, former SPLC executive director and former Knight Chair for Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University.

“The was a real passion project for all of us,” their Director of Publications, Jessica Nassau said. “It’s interesting how the pandemic pushed all my journalism students in new ways. Many of them found real purpose in their journalism work.”

She said other students redesigned their newspaper into a newsmagazine, and two students, Alex Landy, now at Tufts University and Oren Minsk, now at Penn, led the Protocol project.

“We’d love to help other schools pass similar Protocols so as much as we can get the word out, the better,” she said.

The project began at the fall JEA/NSPA Convention

Oren Minsk said students were inspired by a session at last fall’s JEA/NSPA convention taught by Mark Goodman. Alex Landy said they were interested in hearing more about how private schools could achieve press freedom similar to public schools, even though the student media were not prior reviewed.

They spoke to Goodman individually about a document and process that would reflect the school’s mission and the students’ ability to publish good journalism, even controversial reporting. With what they learned from Goodman and through discussions with administrators, Landy said they “quickly developed a draft agreement that addressed specific topics including potential ethical considerations, including can , why and how should they report controversial topics.

The draft had key points to both groups

Landy said they drafted a document with information from other private schools, Goodman and administrators. This draft, including changes to tie to the school mission statements, went through multiple revisions before “it became in line with school’s values and principles, which was a really great document,” Landy said.

Rabbi Mitch Malkus, head of the school, said as editing went on, he completely changed his view. As discussions continued, he said, he saw how serious the students were about the protocol. The document, “was much in alignment with the goals I had for journalism. The paper having complete First Amendment rights, that I really do believe they deserve and other private schools should be looking at.”

Nassau also said trust is ESSENTIAL in establishing a protocol.

“One thing I’ve noticed in talking with a few people from other schools who are interested in establishing a protocol,” she said, ” is that often their programs only operate as clubs and the staff are not learning basic journalism law, like what the SPLC has on their website as the ‘Big Six'” 

She added that The Lion’s Tale at her school is primarily an extracurricular activity but students have to take at least one semester of journalism to be on a staff.

“That class is largely writing based,” she said, “but there are two exams – one on AP style and one on law and ethics. I would drop AP style if I had to drop something. I think a law and ethics boot camp and exam is essential for membership on a staff. How can an administration trust the media staff to make the right call if they’re not even aware of basic things like libel, invasion of privacy, bias, etc.”

Working to honor the First Amendment, school’s core values

Following a summer of discussion and revision, both parties reached agreement on issues like role of the adviser, the levels of communication between paper and administration and preservation of the document into the future, for coming students and administrators.

“We wanted a mutually agreeable and beneficial agreement for both parties, Landy said.

Changes to the SPLC draft, Minsk said, included inclusion of language about the school’s mission, core values such as pluralism, which is sharing all the different beliefs and values.

“Hearing all voices is an important part of a paper,” he said.

A change from the basic SPLC draft was to include an outline of how administrators could communicate with editors and still recognize editors take responsibility of making all content decisions.

What’s in the Statement of Policy?

It is hereby the policy of the CESJDS administration and The Lion’s Tale, the official, school-sponsored and funded student newspaper of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, that the publication is a forum for student expression to encourage the uncensored, robust, free and open discussion of issues. The Lion’s Tale student journalists shall have the right to determine the content of their publication and website. Student editors make all content decisions, and such decisions are not within the CESJDS administration’s purview to determine.

Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

“Our school is tremendously proud of the agreement and last year’s FAPFA,” Nassau said. ” In fact, they recently put out their “Year in Review” and it was top on the list.”

Protocol resources

For a video of Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School Protocol participants outlining its process and why they feel it succeeded, see below

See the Protocol; video here

For a copy of the Protocol Agreement and policy, go here

For additional information, see:

• McCormick Foundation’s Protocol for free and responsible student news media

• Charles E. Smith Day School information

• Contact Jessica Nassau,

Director of Publications,

Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School

11710 Hunters Lane. Rockville, MD

P 301.692.4971.