Student Press Freedom Day and Protecting Student Publications From Censorship

Today, Student Press Freedom Day, is an important day for celebrating, drawing attention to, and advocating for the rights of student journalists and their publications. The Student Press Law Center [SPLC], a legal resource for journalists in high school and college, encourages student journalists around the nation to join in on Student Press Freedom Day and demand “New Voices” legislature be enacted around the country to protect student publications from censorship.

On Student Press Freedom Day, Students around the nation plan anti-censorship rallies, publish op-ed’s encouraging the freedom of the press, distribute stickers or buttons with anti-censorship messages, and post on social media about the benefits of the free press using the #StudentPressFreedom hashtag.

In schools where student publications are not protected by free speech, administration can censor the publication of controversial or unfavorable stories by requiring that students submit stories for prior review and editing by administrators before publication, refusing to allow stories to be published altogether, or by encouraging papers to self-censor themselves of these stories for threat of repercussions.

As far as these unfavorable or controversial stories go, the article in question in the controversial Hazelwood decision, for example, was a part of a special segment on issues such as teen pregnancy and the impact of divorce on students. Other examples of stories that may be censored include stories on hot topics (gun control, abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, etc), and stories that may paint the school or district in a negative light.

The case of Hazelwood School District vs Kuhlmeier in 1988 ruled that without a policy or practice marking student publications as a “public forum for student expression”, school and district administrators can censor publications or broadcasts if a reasonable educational justification is given, meaning that student media is not protected by the right to free speech.

Fortunately, Oregon is one of 14 states that have introduced New Voices legislature to counteract the Hazelwood ruling that provides protection from administrative censorship of student publications, provided that they do not violate state or federal statutes. Oregon’s Student Free Expression Law allows student sponsored media prepared under a media adviser the protection of free speech under the first amendment, provided that it does not include libel or slander, violate state or federal laws, include unwarranted invasion of privacy, or incite clear and present danger to students In the 2019 legislative session, five new states have proposed New Voices Legislature, and the SPLC estimates that more will join throughout the year.

The protection offered to student journalists in Oregon allows for issues that students care about to be reported on as they are, regardless of how the administration feels about them. All of South Salem High School’s student media, including The Clypian newspaper, The Sword & Shield Yearbook, the Saxon Radio One podcast, and Saxon TV’s coverage are protected under first amendment rights, and therefore do not undergo administrative censorship.

In celebrating Student Press Freedom Day, the campaigns and efforts of publications to promote the rights of student journalists helps to draw attention to the issue of administrative censorship, and to advocate for the protection of student journalists under the first amendment

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