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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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