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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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Signing on as FAPFA candidate makes powerful symbolic statement

Posted by on Nov 23, 2016 in Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 2 comments


Confession: For the past 10 days, I’ve spent a good chunk of time glued to media coverage of President-elect Trump, reading about his meetings with prospective leaders and reports of cabinet appointments, cries against Hamilton and SNL on Twitter and updates about the on-again, off-again New York Times meeting.

My nervousness mounts as we transition to a new president known for his attacks on news organizations, for bullying those who ask tough questions, for threats to “open up” libel laws, for ugly rants against those who hold steady to report on the record the actions of our leaders.

And while I’ve made sure to read, donate, sign petitions and facilitate respectful dialogue, I’ve also spent the past 10 days thinking about my journalism students. What can I do? What can we do? What can they do?

As is often the case, the greatest potential for impact is within the classroom. It’s clear to me that my own students’ efforts practicing, protecting and promoting their First Amendment rights matter more than ever.

Next week, Dec. 1, 2016, is the deadline for JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award. I’m glad my students will apply, and here are three reasons I urge other scholastic media programs to do the same:

[1] The FAPFA process provides an important opportunity for students to revisit the core principles of their journalism program as they tell the stories of their school community through truthful and accurate reporting using a wide range of diverse, credible sources. The editors know their publication policies inside and out, but do the other staff members? Would every student on staff be able to answer the FAPFA questions accurately? Perhaps this an opportunity for editors to conduct a mini-lesson to educate or review with rookies some “What happens if …” scenarios.

[2] The possibility of recognition as a First Amendment school is another way to increase awareness in the school and throughout the community. Even if school administrators are supportive of students’ free expression rights both in theory and in practice, it’s likely there are community members who are less aware of what it means for students to make all content decisions free of administrative censorship. It’s another chance to spread the word about what the First Amendment means and why it matters.

Remember, 39 percent of Americans could not name even one of the five freedoms.

Can FAPFA recognition serve to make all stakeholders better understand the educational significance of providing students with an outlet for free expression and the long-term benefits of empowering students with the responsibility of the decision-making process?

Celebrating a school’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award recognition can play a role in the case for scholastic media curriculum development and the long game in protecting both First Amendment education and scholastic journalism specifically.

[3] Signing on as a FAPFA candidate makes a powerful symbolic statement at a crucial time.

My own students have protection from California Ed Code 48907, but they’ll still be using the opportunity JEA’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award provides. In other words, they’ll apply for the award because they can. It’s a chance to speak up and speak out for why that freedom of expression matters so much, and a chance to draw attention to states where students don’t have that right.

Discussing the questions on the first-round FAPFA form reminds students that not every student media program is lucky enough to operate in a student-led environment with journalists empowered by the critical thinking experience of their decision-making process. It puts things in perspective. It emboldens them to use the tools at their disposal, creatively and positively, to fight the good fight. It draws attention to the injustice in schools and states with administrative censorship and helps increase efforts toward press rights legislation.

Editors can proudly share their efforts in attempt to leverage that social currency and widen the scope of attention for First Amendment freedoms just when the New Voices movement — and new White House administration — need it most.


by Sarah Nichols, MJE

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Transparency needs to be crystal clear
– at all levels

Posted by on Apr 1, 2015 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoby Stan Zoller
In an effort to enhance transparency and public access to some records, legislators in two states are sending a message to some schools – show us your privates.

Sort of.

Bills are pending in the Texas and Illinois state houses would require police departments or campus safety departments at private colleges and universities to comply with the Freedom of Information Act in those states.

According to the Student Press Law Center, the bill pending in Texas “…would clarify that a private college’s police department is a “governmental body with respect to information relating to law enforcement activities,” eliminating its ability to withhold some law enforcement records from the public.”

The Illinois bill carries essentially the same language. The SPLC reports the Illinois bill is actually “A proposed amendment to the Private College Campus Police Act would require campus police departments at private universities… to publicly disclose any information that other law enforcement agencies are required to provide under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.”

[pullquote]Both bills represent an effort in two states to ensure that information regarding public safety is not masked by a private school. What lies ahead depends on what lawmakers in both states do with their respective bills.[/pullquote]

So why are these bills important to scholastic journalism teachers and their student journalists?

Because both bills represent an effort in two states to ensure that information regarding public safety is not masked by a private school. What lies ahead depends on what lawmakers in both states do with their respective bills.

Hopefully both bills will pass and the public, not to mention lawmakers will realize an informed citizenry can make solid decisions based on well balanced media reports.

Transparency and access to public records is not college thing, nor is it just for the professional press. Scholastic journalists have the same rights to accessing public records and should be able to do so without fear of repercussion from teachers, department chairs or administrators.

Information available through the FOIA is public and Journalism educators should encourage their students to use their state’s FOIA to ensure that they have solid background information about public matters – whether it is an action by a school board, or transaction by a school district.

Journalism educators need to be well versed in their state’s FOIA so they can, obviously, advise their students on not only what is available via the FOIA, but the process involved in accessing public information.

Information obtained from the FOIA can be enlightening. Media teachers and advisers need to carefully work with their students about how information will be used. Some information, especially from police reports, can be detailed and appear sensitive.

Some administrators will claim it’s “personal information and you can’t use that.”

Hardly. It’s public information and yes, it can be used.

As previously noted, however, it may need to be used judiciously. If so, it’s imperative  the reporter and media clearly note that the information was obtained by using the FOIA. No matter if information used in a media report or not, it does provide student journalists with outstanding background information. Obviously, it’s an excellent example of a direct source that adds depth to a story.

While administrators may decry its use, what that can’t decry is that a student journalist has done his or her homework and is practicing quintessential transparency.

And if they can’t accept transparency, they shouldn’t be an administrator.

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Good student work makes a difference

Posted by on May 27, 2010 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Student conduct in preparing controversial coverage spurred an attorney to change his mind and say he will work for a bill that protects both student journalists and their schools.

Don Austin, of a law firm that currently represents Puyallup, Washington, schools and was their counsel in the recent case involving Jagwire’s coverage of oral sex, said he would work for state legislation to guarantee student expression and still protect school systems, something he said he once opposed because he did not feel it gave schools enough immunity from lawsuits.

He said the cost of defending the lawsuit, nearly $250,000, the fact the jury found no invasion of privacy and no negligence on the part of the school system with students making content decisions, helped him see he should involve administrators in creating bulletproof immunity for schools – while still protecting students’ rights.

At one time, he said he  did not believe students could successfully exercise control of publications.

“The kids convinced me,” he said of why his views had changed.

Austin said as part of the pre-trial briefings for the recent Jagwire case, he interviewed both adviser Kevin Smyth and his students.

“I went through and methodically evaluated his program,” Austin said. “I was impressed with the approach he and his students took” in regard to the process of reporting the oral sex stories. “Students acted as adults to do what they did.”

Austin said he wanted to “avoid future litigation” by working with school authorities and student expression supporters. He said those who have supported student free expression should know there is now a “different audience” to help work on this legislation.

The goal, he said, is to protect all parties.

Kathy Schrier, WJEA executive director, said Austin’s testimony favoring such legislation would be a huge help in the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said she would like to see changes in language to protect all parties.

“Don Austin spoke against legislation last time,” First Amendment advocate and former Auburn High adviser Fern Valentine said, “but now realizes that is is the answer for both the students and school districts.”

Valentine said legislators will need to hear from school attorneys who support the legislation and can testify that a strong state law will not only insure students learn the most possible in their journalism classes but will also protect school districts from the expense of possible litigation.

WJEA president Vince DeMiero said he believes Austin is a convert.

“I truly believe if we nurture this relationship that it will be beneficial to both parties,” DeMiero said. “He’s busy, but he’s the first lawyer outside of the SPLC who I really think understands what we’re talking about. He’s incredibly focused and very intelligent. So, to have him on our side would be huge.”

Until legislation is again proposed, students in the Puyallup district and others around the state continue to fight against prior review and restraint. Check out information about the Puyallup student efforts, and about a new policy based on NEOLA standards at Seaholm High School. The NEOLA site, in a Webinar, talks about all four policy options referred to in the Seaholm article.

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