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Coming to a state near you?

Posted by on Feb 15, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


For those who have not read it, SPLC executive director Frank LoMonte’s recent post on Indiana’s HB 1169 is a chilling reminder of why free expression – and not just for high school students – requires eternal vigilance.

For those who will celebrate Scholastic Journalism Week next week, LoMonte’s post is literally mandatory reading.

For those who are not aware, the proposed legislation – already passed in the Indiana house – would allow schools to control student expression in or out of schools for anything “reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function.”

For those of us who are teachers and educators, that language, says LoMonte, can mean just about anything, any thought or action conceivably upsetting to a school official or administrator.

For those of us who now live with the application of a supposedly limited Hazelwood decision, the spectre, to put it mildly, is reminiscent of the chill breathed into scholastic media as school officials interpreted its meaning.

For those of us who want critical thinking, decision making and civic engagement to remain alive not only in our schools but in our communities, becoming aware and creating ways to sidetrack such thinking and legislation becomes paramount.

For those of us who are unaware, such legislation might be coming to a state near you.

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Yearbook controversy a time for discussion

Posted by on Jan 8, 2012 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


This week’s events involving a submitted senior photo for Denver-area yearbook create the potential for discussion and introspection, not only on student media staffs, but also with the communities they serve.

In the situation, a senior girl submitted as her senior portrait a photo of her wearing a yellow, short skirt and a shoulder and midriff exposing black shawl.

Some news reports say student editors approved the photo and the administration blocked that idea. Newer ones state the student editorial board made the decision.

Questions arose whether she should be permitted to use that image, was the publication a forum for student expression and who had the final decision of content. Some comments even questioned whether a yearbook should be afforded the same First Amendment rights as newspapers.

All are makings for eventful class discussions:

• What is appropriate dress for senior photos in yearbooks?
• Are dress code violations the same as First Amendment violations?
• Who makes that decision?
• Does a yearbook have the same rights as newspapers in schools?
• What is the yearbook’s role?

We hope these discussions occur and focus on key points, and we hope stakeholders reach these conclusions:
• Student editors make final decisions over all yearbook – and all student media – content.
• Yearbooks deserve the same rights as student newspapers.
• Yearbooks are designated public forums for student expression and not just public relations tools.

We hope you will let us know how those discussions go and what your students say is the purpose of scholastic yearbooks.

For more information about the original situation:
• Colorado student banned from yearbook over racy photo (well, she was not banned, but you get the point on reading the story)–abc-news.html
• Colorado yearbook was not censored in weirdly popular ‘navelgate’ story
• Student editors make call on yearbook photo
• High school student’s senior picture removed from yearbook for violating dress code


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Questions for thought 1

Posted by on Sep 8, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


As the new year starts, we face many issues. Some arise daily. Others reside in the background until events force them on us. These broad philosophical issues often are questions we need to answer before they become crucial.

Over the next several posts we will raise a variety of Questions for Thought. Hopefully, as you consider answers, you and your students will address some important principles of scholastic journalism.

We hope these questions might prove to be worthy assignments and that you might share some of your activities through the comments section here.

Question #1:

School officials argue prior review is important because school media represent the image of the school to the community. Analyze this argument and make two sets of recommendations: one supporting prior review, the other arguing against it. Develop criteria and arguments for each position. Find a neutral audience or class and arrange a debate to generate discussion and – hopefully – an action plan on the subject.

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Professional allies against censorship

Posted by on Mar 30, 2011 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Those looking for allies in their fight against censorship should consider professional organizations.

Check out support the Colorado Society of Professional Journalists gave students of the Overland Scout today.

The Board of Directors of the Colorado Pro Chapter of SPJ wrote in their letter to the Cherry Creek District Superintendent and Board, “Specific provisions exist that allow for prior restraint by school administrators, including if a story is obscene, false or libelous. None of these conditions appear to be involved in the Scout case.” Read the entire letter here and here.

Scout student journalists have argued the school prevented publication of an article that could have been published under Colorado law, stopped further publication of the newspaper and removed their adviser. The school has responded with shifting positions but now says the paper will continue to publish.

Even as we continue to support these students and their adviser, we, as advisers, need to be conduits for the importance of student free and journalistically responsible expression. We must model it, teach it and lobby for it whether we face review and restraint ourselves or are pinnacles of freedom.

Start with administrators; start with the community. But no matter where we start, we must illuminate the fact that the basis of a continuing, intelligent democracy lives and grows with a strong and viable journalism program. It starts where students are challenged to think, to make decisions and to be responsible as they apply what they learn without prior review or restraint.

Anything less – anything – undermines the core of freedoms we say we cherish and those in other lands fight to attain.

Follow the Colorado situation by checking these links.


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