For the Reporter
First Amendment protections for student journalists at school newspapers cleared a major hurdle after legislation sponsored by Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, was approved by the state House of Representatives last Friday.
The plan passed by a 91-6 margin in the final hour ahead of a key legislative deadline. It is supported by current and former student reporters and editors, journalism teachers and free press advocates.
“Students deserve the opportunity to pursue stories that are important to them and their peers without fear of censorship,” said Fain, who sponsored the bill after visiting an Auburn High School journalism class in 2015. “Practicing journalism in its full capacity better prepares students to pursue a career in journalism and equips them with the critical thinking, research and writing skills that lead to more engaged citizens.”
Under the legislation, student editors would be responsible for content, which Fain said was important and appropriate as they learn how to participate ethically and honestly in the conversations of a civil democracy.
The issue stems from a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier where the court held that school-sponsored student expression, including school newspapers, did not occur in a traditional public forum and therefore could be regulated. Despite the federal precedent, states have the right to provide greater protections.
Fain’s legislation passed the Senate last year and was approved again in January. It is modeled off of policies passed by North Dakota in 2015, placing the responsibility on student editors to determine content so long as the content is not libelous, illegal, or would disrupt the educational environment of the school.
After being amended the bill now heads to back to the Senate where it has passed twice before, including by a 43-5 margin in January.