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Proactivity can help face a challenge

Posted by on Jan 15, 2019 in Blog, Law and Ethics, New Voices | 0 comments


by Stan Zoller,MJE
Watch just about any team sporting event and at some point, there will be challenge to a call. Or challenge to the rules.

It’s no different with some scholastic journalism programs. Despite New Voices laws in 14 states, and bills introduced in three others, challenges to the rules, or in this case laws, are not unusual.

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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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JEA endorses legislation
for New Voices in 8 states

Posted by on Apr 19, 2016 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The Journalism Education Association, at its spring convention in Los Angeles, endorsed eight states’ efforts to pass legislation ensuring protection for student expression.

The states are:

“JEA is spot-on to endorse these states’ efforts to pass New Voices legislation,” JEA president Mark Newton said. “Student voice is absolutely essential in all aspects of education. And, it is absolutely essential to participating in a democracy. It is a civic duty to empower — and defend — each freedom in the First Amendment. I am glad to see so many states see the plethora of values of responsible student freedom of expression.”

The eight are part of the New Voices movement, a project of the Student Press Law Center.

According to its website, New Voices hopes such legislation “will restore the Tinker standard of student expression in America’s high schools. That standard protects student speech unless it is libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a ‘clear and present danger’ of a ‘material and substantial disruption’ of the school.”

[pullquote]When we teach responsible expression to students, and empower them to use it without fear of review or restraint, we will see positive benefits for decades and decades. It’s not only an educational sound best practice, but a civic one as well. – JEA President Mark Newton[/pullquote]

States already having state protection for student expression are:

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • Colorado
  • Arkansas
  • Kansas
  • North Dakota
  • Iowa
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania Code
  • Washington Code

“When we teach responsible expression to students, and empower them to use it without fear of review or restraint,” Newton said,  “we will see positive benefits for decades and decades. It’s not only an educational sound best practice, but a civic one as well.”

JEA is the largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers, educating teachers how to educate students. Among its programs and outreach, JEA provides training around the country at national conventions and institutes, offers national certification for teaching high school journalism and monitor and actively defend First Amendment and scholastic press rights issues across the country.

New Voices USA is a student-powered grassroots movement to give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern. New Voices works with advocates in law, education, journalism and civics to make schools and colleges more welcoming places for student voices.

JEA and the SPLC encourage other states to press for similar legislation, and would also endorse legislation that would do so.

Students and advisers interested for more information can contact the SPLC  at 202-785-5450 or JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee.

For more information about starting state legislation, check this SPLC resource, this resource and this JEA resource.

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Helping the John Wall New Voices Act
be a springboard for change, more legislation

Posted by on Apr 12, 2015 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism | 0 comments


sprclogoNorth Dakota’s passage of the John Wall New Voices Act sets a good model for those of us in other states who want to protect free expression for students as they learn how that expression is the cornerstone of democracy.

We should realize the importance of this passage, the first in eight years since Oregon’s passed. Before that, the last state to pass legislation was Arkansas 20 years ago April 10.

Let’s take  time to do two things to honor this passage:
• Let’s search for ways to pass similar legislation in our states. Learning from North Dakota, we can study SPLC and SPRC blueprints for legislation to start our efforts, and
• Let’s support North Dakota’s efforts through Go Fund Me to help them support SPLC director Frank LoMonte’s return to the state for the signing of the Act (and to help provide honorariums to Mary Beth Tinker and Cathy Kuhlmeier for their efforts to pass the legislation).

Good job, North Dakota, in providing another positive model of the difference active, involved citizens of all ages and beliefs can achieve when they work together for a just cause.

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North Dakota introduces legislation
to protect student expression

Posted by on Jan 21, 2015 in Blog, Hazelwood, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


sprclogoWith North Dakota’s introduction of a freedom of expression bill Jan. 19, student journalists in other states might want to know how to work on legislation in their states.

The John Wall New Voices Act is designed to protect student First Amendment rights both public high schools and public and private colleges.

Seven states have passed legislation protecting student expression at the scholastic levels, and Illinois protects college-level speech.

Students or advisers interested in obtaining materials to consider working on legislation can check these resources:

SPLC model legislation to protect student free expression rights
SPLC map and model guidelines for legislation
JEA/SPRC Blueprint for state legislation

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