KEMPA Journalism

Student free expression legislation needed


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As an adviser, I want to focus on my students and their work.  I want to help them develop the many skills they need for reporting, designing, communicating, decision-making.  I want to see them grow into thoughtful, caring adults with a passion for fairness, truth and telling stories that need to be heard.

I don’t want to see them stifled, wary, overly cautious, fearful of what they can report.

But that can happen when they are subject to prior review. Students censor themselves.

In Wisconsin and Illinois, high school journalists do not have a law to protect their First Amendment right to free expression.  If their school or district has a policy giving students publication rights under the Tinker standard, they have the right to determine their publication’s content.  Without such a policy, students and their publications fall under the restrictions of the Hazelwood standard.

North Dakota teachers and students rallied this past year to persuade their legislature to approve unanimously the New Voices Act, returning freedom of expression under the Tinker standard to the North Dakota college and high school press.

Both Illinois and Wisconsin need to do something about returning the Tinker standard to our states.

Wisconsin is ready to do that.  KEMPA has joined NEWSPA (Northeast Wisconsin Scholastic Press Association) and WCMA (Wisconsin College Media Association) to form a coalition to draft legislation, find a broad base of support and move that proposed law through the Wisconsin legislature.

We need your support and your help.

  1. Do you have a story to share about student censorship at your publication? Does your principal exercise prior review? Share that with us.  Email me your story at [email protected]. We’ll need examples to share with legislators, the school board association and the administrators’ association to gain their support. They’ll want to know if there’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Wisconsin or Illinois.  Talk to us.
  2. Do you teach press law and ethics to your student journalists? If not, it’s time to do so.  Review the Tinker and Hazelwood cases and the differences between them. Be sure your students know the difference and know whether your school or district has a policy giving them freedom of expression.  Tell your students about our plan for Wisconsin legislation.  Talk with them about whether Illinois needs such legislation.
  3. Do you know of a Wisconsin legislator who would sponsor this legislation? Email me at [email protected].

If you need some direction in teaching press law and ethics to your students, visit the website of the Student Press Law Center, http://splc.org.  You’ll find presentations, handouts and quizzes, ready for teachers to use.  Another resource is the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights website, http://jeasprc.org.  It has information on landmark cases, prior review, FERPA, ethical guidelines and more. Get yourself a copy of “Law of the Student Press,” now in its fourth edition.

As an adviser, you want to focus on your students and their work. You want to help them develop the many skills they need for reporting, designing, communicating, decision-making.  You want to see them grow into thoughtful, caring adults with a passion for fairness, truth and telling stories that need to be heard.  We need to support legislation that will allow them to do that.

Linda Barrington, MJE, is the graphics adviser for the feature magazine at Mount Mary University in Wisconsin.  She is KEMPA executive director and chairs the Winter Advisers’ Seminar.  She is also the chair of the JEA Mentor Program.  Her blog focuses on advising and the importance of KEMPA.

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