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Terms connected with
student free press legislation

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



Terms concerning free expression legislation

  • Prior review is the practice of school administrators – or anyone in a position of authority outside the editorial staff – demanding that they be allowed to read (or preview) copy prior to publication and/or distribution.

Prior review itself is a form of prior restraint. It inevitably leads the reviewer to censor and student journalists to self-censor in an effort to assure approval. An officially designated adviser, when working with students and offering suggestions for improvement as part of the coaching and learning process, who reads or views student media content before publication is not engaged in prior review. However, when an adviser requires pre-distribution changes over the objections of student editors, his/her actions then become prior restraint.

This state legislation does not prevent prior review. However, every major journalism education organization have spoken against it, saying it has no educational value and is only the first step toward censorship.

  • Prior restraint occurs when school officials – often after they have read material (prior review) – do something to inhibit, ban or restrain its publication.

Prior restraint prevents a complete and often factual story or set of facts from being told.

It often prevents an accurate account of the topic or issue from being told

  • Forum for student expression

A public forum is created when school officials have “by policy or by practice” opened a publication for use by students to engage in their own free expression.

In the Hazelwood decision, the Court said it believed both the policy and practice at Hazelwood East High School reflected school officials’ intent to exercise complete control over the student newspaper’s content. That finding prompted the Court to say a designated public forum did not exist.

Nevertheless, student publications at other schools with different policies and different practices relating to editorial control can be public forums. Where student editors have been given final authority over content decisions in their publications or where a school policy explicitly describes a student publication as a designated public forum, the Tinker standard will still apply.

If you’re developing a new policy or altering current policy to reflect changes in state law, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee recommends using language that reads something like this:

[Name of publication] is a designated public forum for student expression. Student editors make all content decisions without prior review from school officials. 

  • Public forums by policy: An official school policy exists that designates student editors, within clearly defined limitations (no libel, obscenity, etc.), as the ultimate authority for determining content. (A publication’s own editorial policy does not count as an official school policy unless some school official has formally endorsed it.) School administrators 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.
  • Public forums by practice: A school policy may or may not exist regarding student media, but administrators take a hands-off approach and empower students to control content decisions. For some period of time, there has been no act of censorship by administrators and there is no required prior approval of content by administrators. Advisers teach and offer students advice, but they neither control nor make final decisions regarding content. (Principals Guide)

This link describes the types and is basis for summary to be added here:   

Read this article by Mark Goodman on forum status:  

       • Journalistic responsibility

Administrators like to talk of responsible or accountable student media. We agree, but want to couch the terms this way: journalistic responsibility.

Journalistic responsibility includes accuracy, context, completeness and verification.  Your first responsibility, as student journalists, is to present truth as best you can find it to your various communities in such a way that empowers them to make effective decisions that enhance democracy.

Such a definition precludes prior review, prior restraint and other limitations that would distort or render student reporting inaccurate or inaccurate.

  • Codes of ethics

Codes of ethics are recommended journalistic guidelines. As such they propose journalistic practices akin to professional standards. But, they are not requirements. No professional journalism organization forces its members or practitioners to adhere or to follow them.


JEA’s Adviser Code of Ethics establishes Best Practices for teaching and advising journalism and student media. NSPA’s Student Code of Ethics is but one model code for students. Another, used by many student media as a model is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

JEA recommends establishing a board -level editorial policy, media mission statement, media-level policy, media codes of ethics for students with a strong staff manual on the processes students will use to practice ethical guidelines.

The policy statements should show student media as designated public forums for student expression where students make all final decisions of content without prior review. For detailed information on wording and process for these guidelines, go to the SPRC’s Foundations package.

Relevant court cases

  • Tinker: The Tinker Standard (1969) protects student speech unless it is libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a “clear and present danger” or a “material and substantial disruption” of the school. 
  • Hazelwood: The Hazelwood decision (1988) allowed administrators to easily justify censorship of legitimate speech in curricular settings. The following states have this protection. Click on each state to see their law.

Common legal definitions (as defined by the SPLC):

  • Libel: Any published communication – words, photos, pictures, symbols – that falsely harms a person’s reputation.  Libel is written; slander is spoken defamation. A five of these elements must be present for there to be libel: publication, identification, harm, falsity and fault. Provable truth is an absolute defense against libel.
  • Invasion of privacy: The right to privacy is not explicitly guaranteed by the Constitution, and not all elements recognized by all states. The four types of invasion of privacy are: Public disclosure of private and embarrassing facts; Intrusion; False light and Misappropriation
  • Obscene as to minors: True obscenity is not protected speech; identifying it easier said than done. Profanity and nudity are not in themselves obscene. To be determined as obscene,  something must meet all three tests: material has no serious literary, political, artistic or scientific content; predominantly appeals to the prurient, shameful or morbid interest of mines and patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable for minors and is utterly without social importance for minors
  • Material and substantial disruption: The Tinker standard. Claims of material and substantial disruption must have factual support, which can include “reasonable forecast” of disruption “Undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance” or a “mere desire” to avoid unpopular views does not qualify. Sometimes referred to as “clear and present danger” in legislation.

Specific legislation language (Illinois)

  • School official: A school principal or his or her designee
  • School sponsored media: Any material prepared, substantially written, published or broadcast by student journalists and available to others outside the classroom
  • Student journalist: Any public high school journalist who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records or prepares information for dissemination in school-sponsored media

• Student media adviser: An individual employed, appointed or designated by a school district to supervise or  provide instruction relating to school-sponsored media.


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