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When is free speech not so free?

Posted by on Mar 25, 2019 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Just because legislation or mandates say they protect and promote student voices and student thought, doesn’t necessarily mean they do.

by Candace Bowen, MJE
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

That may be a cliché, but it’s often spot on. And no more so than news lately of various orders and state legislation and school policies seeming to promote free speech. That’s a great idea, right?

Well, maybe not.

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Letters and commentary can enhance pubic forum role QT40

Posted by on Jan 5, 2018 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Publishing letters to the editor is another way of fulfilling student media’s forum obligations to engage audiences through journalistic responsibility.

That said, students should establish clear criteria for identifying the authors, receiving and verifying the information. Such viewpoint neutral guidelines do not violate the author’s free expression rights.

Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages students host. They allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories students have written, topics covered, or issues in the school or their world concerning them.


Student media should accept letters to the editor or online comments from outside the staff to solidify their status as a designated public forum where students make all final decisions of content. This allows their audience to use their voices as well. Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them.


Student media should welcome letters to the editor or commentaries as ways to engage your readers and diversify the published content.


Letters to the Editor are opportunities for your community to have a voice on the pages you host. They are usually 250 words or fewer and allow community members to interact with your staff and your readers by responding to stories you’ve written, topics you have covered, or issues in the school or their world that concern them.

Your guidelines should clearly spell out your process for accepting letters to the editor, and the editors still must maintain editorial control. Editorial control does not mean student editors do not publish something with which you disagree. In fact, students should use this opportunity to welcome differing viewpoints and voices. Making sure you have viewpoint-agnostic guidelines will help to ensure your staff makes well-informed ethical decisions regarding content.

Staff should reserve the right to ask the writer to edit for grammar, length and clarity instead of editing letters for them. Letting the authors make changes keeps the public forum status intact.

Other considerations:

  • A student editor must know the name of the author, and verify the response, even if the letter is published “name withheld by request.” False names or nicknames should not be published.
  • Each letter should be no longer than 250 words.
  • The source of emailed letters should be verified prior to publication.
  • Student staffs should strive to publish all letters received as part of the forum process.
  • Student staffs should develop a policy concerning staff member comments or letters to the editor. Such staffers have other avenues to express their opinions in their media, and this is not a common practice for commercial media.


Star Tribune’s editorial pages

Letters to the Editor Policies



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FAPFA deadline Dec. 15

Posted by on Dec 10, 2017 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Five days.

120 hours.


That’s the time left to submit your Round 1 application for the First Amendment Press Freedom Award and reaffirm your school’s support for the First Amendment.

We have received several applications with only one entry (2 are required). Please check and submit your second entry.

Even if we recognized your school  in the past, you still need to submit a new entry yearly because, frankly, situations change. Several past recipients have not reapplied.

This First Amendment Press Freedom Award recognizes high schools that actively support, teach and protect First Amendment rights and responsibilities of students and teachers. The recognition focuses on student-run media where students make all final decisions of content without prior review.

As in previous years, schools seek FAPFA recognition by first answering questionnaires submitted by an adviser and at least one editor. Those who advance to the next level will be asked to provide separate responses from the principal and all media advisers and student editors, indicating their support of the First Amendment. In addition, semifinalists submit samples of their school and media online or printed policies that show student media applying their freedoms.

Schools recognized as meeting FAPFA criteria will be honored at the opening ceremony of the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco.

First round applications are due annually before Dec. 15. Downloadable applications for 2018 are available at this link.


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How can my school get involved
in the New Voices campaign? QT21

Posted by on Oct 15, 2017 in Blog, Hazelwood, News, Quick Tips, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Almost a quarter of all states have now passed legislation protecting voice in student media, and instilling the virtues of the First Amendment as state statute for student media. North Dakota’s success in 2015 seemed to spark the latest fire that has seen legislative recognition of student speech in Illinois, Maryland, Vermont and Rhode Island.

That still leaves 38 states without overt student press rights protections, which muddies the waters for students, advisers, and school administrators.

If you live in a state without clear student press protections, work with your state-level scholastic media organizations, professional news organizations and school administrators to show the benefits of doing so.

The most important element of student press protection is that it establishes, state by state, a practical First Amendment laboratory in the schools, where students are empowered to make decisions, develop civic efficacy and establish ethical decision-making guidelines.

It also benefits schools and administrators in that it establishes clear and specific guidelines for student press that would not be acceptable. In most cases, that means libel, invasion or privacy, obscenity, or language that materially disrupts the rights of others to learn.

Students in states that have clear student press protections can also help by sharing the success stories of their real-life practice of the First Amendment in their schools. How has your classroom experience helped you make ethical decisions? How have you become more of a leader because your state law empowered you to do so?



Support free expression for others in local and larger communities


Students in all schools should actively support student press rights legislation in their states and/or other states with active legislation.


The New Voices campaign has successfully created student press protection laws in several states in the last two years. Currently, 13 states explicitly protect student press rights.

Building student media programs by protecting student press laws is one of the most efficacious means of building civically minded students. In a time when the media is increasingly under fire for the accuracy of their reporting, it’s critical we foster an environment in high schools which promotes ethical, truthful and accurate storytelling while protecting students’ rights to tell those stories.

Teachers and students who would like to be active in this movement, should contact their JEA state directors or reach out to the Student Press Law Center.


JEA updates its Adviser Code of Ethics

Center for Scholastic Journalism Legislative Conference videos


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What’s in your state press law?

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


by John Bowen and Lori Keekley


What’s in your state press law?


State laws protecting student press rights mean nothing if students don’t know what they cover. For this lesson, students will examine what their state law protects and what its limitations are. Students will also create a dialogue with stakeholders in order to educate them about what the bill and its impact.


  • Students will evaluate what their state law covers
  • Students will locate and quote from their state bill
  • Students will create a dialogue to help inform other stakeholders about the bill.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

State law (pick the applicable one from those available at the end of the lesson)

Handout: State law sheet

Rubric: State law rubric


Definitions of legal terms used in various bills

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introduction (5 minutes)

Thirteen states have now passed student free expression legislation or codes. While many are similar, no one is exactly like any other.

Have students guess what 14 states have this legislation or state code.

(Teacher note — the states in which legislation has passed include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington.)

Is your state part of this? (If it is not, have students evaluate one of the other state laws and see Extension 2).

Step 2 — Small groups (20 minutes)

Place students into small groups. Each group will need to complete the “State Law Sheet.” Teachers may need to provide hints about where to find the information either by search or accessing the New Voices USA homepage.

The teacher would also explain why it is important students create a dialogue between a student and either an administrator, school board member, angry parent, angry student or adviser about the bill. The teacher should assign each group one of these people to educate about the significance, relevance and rationale behind the laws, especially as they apply to the stakeholders.

Step 3 — Assessment (25 minutes)

Students will act out the dialogue they created concerning educating someone about the bill. Please see the rubric for point breakdown.


If you have advanced students, you could have students compare their state legislation with another state’s bill. Then they could write a blogpost about whether their legislation needs any changes and why.

We also recommend more than additional class or assignment time for students to work on applying what they learned about their state legislation.


The teacher will use the assessment form to evaluate student participation.

Extension Activities

Extension 1:

Have students (in small groups) research the following court cases and reflect upon why they might be used as precedent in a New Voices law:

Tinker v. Des Moines

Bethel v. Fraser

Dean v. Utica

Miller v. California

Morse v. Frederick

The students should present background information about why the court cases laws are relevant and why precise legal language is essential for any such legislation to succeed.

Extension 2:

If your state is not included in the list of 14 states with laws, the teacher might have students use the lesson to focus on differences between two of the state’s legislation is and what should be in students’ state legislation when developed.

Students could also access the New Voices U.S. site and see their state’s status in the New Voices movement and see who to contact if they are interested in helping to pass the bill.

State Laws and Codes:

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