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‘New Voices’ movement promises freedom for all student journalists

Sophia Goldberg sports editor
Jason Harward co-editor-in-chief
Priscilla Hopper media manager

DALLAS, Texas — Rights that Highlights sometimes takes for granted–the unrestricted access to and distribution of district information as well as the reasonable freedom to write what we believe without fearing administrative action–are not a reality for student journalists in many parts of the country.

Speaking with journalists from all over the nation at the National Journalism Convention in Dallas, Texas, it is hard to believe how many true stories have not been heard because of the academic censorship allowed by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988). However, that is starting to change.

Recently, there has been a large push for states to pass New Voices legislation, a bill that would undo the censorship rights of administrators and protect student journalists’ rights to freedom of speech and press.

How legislation is passed

Executive Director of Quill and Scroll International Honor Society Jeff Browne explains the process for proposing and passing New Voices legislation, which includes finding a sponsor and then increasing support for the bill.

“The first step is simply writing the bill and then finding a sponsor, someone in the legislature who is pro-free speech. Generally, they are not difficult to find; they have been found on both the Democrat and Republican side of the aisle,” Browne said. “Once you find a sponsor, that person needs to find support in both houses of the state legislatures. You line up students, advisers and other people to testify in front of the legislature, and hope you get the votes.”

Steven Listopad, a lecturer of Mass Media at Henderson State University, was the driving force behind North Dakota passing New Voices legislation in 2015. Listopad recounts the story, saying he always brought up the idea of New Voices legislation to his students on staff and in journalism courses, but no action was ever really taken until 2013.

“One day, in a Journalism Capstone Course in 2013, and a student said let’s do it as a project. So, they wrote the legislation. The entire semester that was their work. They spoke with legislators, attorneys, they researched other states with legislation, and they came up with the best language they thought would work for North Dakota, which was a three-part law: restore the Tinker standard at the high school level, protect public universities from Hazelwood and the Stevie Carter decision, and then extend to private universities.”

Listopad and his students then found sponsors for the law and it was introduced to the state legislature at the end of 2013, where the bill sat for two years until it was passed in session. North Dakota then joined the 13 states that have a version of New Voices legislation.

However, each state’s efforts and legislatures are different, so each state must go through their own process. See our interactive map for more.

The importance of student rights

Lori Keekley, the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Director, facilitates a group of about 30 adults who work to further the First Amendment rights of student journalists. Keekley preaches the importance of having free student journalism to monitor student government and administration.

“I think [New Voices] is so important, because not only does it provide clarity for what administrators can and can’t do, but it also helps empower those student voices, having that empowerment of student voices is so important to scholastic journalism. If we don’t have that, we have more of a PR campaign than a journalism campaign,” Keekley said. “We are supposed to be the fourth estate, we’re supposed to be the watchdog of the government, the watchdog of the administration. If the students can’t function in that way, then their rights have been violated.”

Browne’s dedication to the subject makes him a proponent for New Voices legislation around the country, helping Maryland and Illinois pass legislation and supporting student journalists defend their publications. He worked with the University of Colorado to produce a documentary, Taking the Lede, on student First Amendment rights in high schools around Colorado.

“Prior to this, I was the Executive Director of the Colorado Scholastic Press Association and did something called CU News Corps, and we produced a 45-minute documentary called ‘Taking the Lede,’ which was about student freedom of expression in Colorado and students fighting censorship there,” Browne said.

To Browne, the most significant impact of this form of legislation is allowing adults to see that high school journalists can produce meaningful content that affects not only their school, but the entire community.  

“What I think is as important as anything is for everyone to understand that just because someone might be 16, 17 or 18 years old, it doesn’t mean they can’t find and verify important information and produce stories that make a difference in their communities and schools,” Browne said.

Kari Riemer is the Hendrickson High School journalism teacher in Texas, a state where New Voices legislation is actively being pursued. She believes that all students deserve the right to report on all topics, whether or not administration deems the issue appropriate. However, Riemer feels lucky that her principal and school board support many of the controversial articles the staff produces.

“I think, for all journalists, just to have the kind of protection, that safety net, to allow them to go forward with what they are passionate about, truth-telling [is important]. At my school, we have been very lucky because we have been allowed to cover a lot of controversial issues, and we have a lot of support, both at the local with the principal, but also with the school board and superintendent. I know that not everybody has that luxury, and I feel like all students should have that same ability to do that,” Riemer said. “There are definitely stories that need to be told, and students can’t do that if they have limitations put on them on what they are allowed to do.”

Grace Scannell, a member of John Hersey High School’s The Correspondent in Arlington Heights, IL, feels that her staff has the freedom to pursue any issue since Illinois passed New Voices legislation in July 2016

“We feel more comfortable. Even if we’re not really questioning whether or not we can write something, we feel more comfortable writing what we want to write because of [New Voices],” Scannell said.

Kayleigh Padar, editor-in-chief of The Correspondent, mentions a specific time this year her staff members were able to use New Voices legislation to write the meaningful, yet controversial, story.

“This year, we did a story about a kid who threatened to begin a gun to school, and we were able to use his name, interview him and all that kind of stuff without getting in trouble,” Padar said. “I would say it really impacts our teacher more because she always let us write anything, but now she has more backing when she’s going to administration and defending us. She has more rights to defend us with.”

Emily Smith, the adviser for the Booster Redux, believes that the Kansas New Voices legislation has allowed her students to really take their time with their reporting: analyze all the necessary facts and complete interviews while feeling confident their rights will not be attacked.

“It allows them, if they are up for the task, to be diligent about doing good reporting. The law gives them the same protections as professional journalists,” Smith said. “I think it has empowered them to address topics that are relevant and timely to their peers that wouldn’t otherwise by addressed by the local media. In addition to that, I think that it just really helps them feel supported and safe, and so they are able to take those educated risks.”

Smith feels that the impact on not just the journalism staff, but the entire community, is widespread in allowing high school students to express their opinions without fear of being penalized for having a differing opinion from administration.

“I think it gives them opportunity to read good high school journalism and be informed. I know some of the topics my kids have tackled have been very relevant to the teenage community and we’re hoping it’s done a service to them,” Smith said. “We’ve talked to victims of sexual assault and let them know they’re not alone. I think that it teaches them that the freedom of expression is important and you don’t have to be a journalist to have a thought.”

Freedom of speech at Beverly

In general, our school allows reasonable freedom speech. The rallies during the 2016 election are an example of freedom of speech at work in our school. Senior Lauren Roshan-Kashani recognizes that, if common-sense rules are followed, students maintain their rights

“I think for the most part, students at Beverly are able to exercise their free speech. I think that there are also certain social cues that most people follow when exercising this right, but administration does allow free speech within reason,” Roshan-Kashani said.

Although senior Jack Kaplan agrees that students maintain their rights in the open, he thinks some history classes can favor one view and leave the rest out.

“Even though we may have free speech at a district level, it sometimes feels like history teachers are not open to different opinions, which limits free speech in the classroom,” Kaplan said.

Rinesa Kabashi, the photo editor on Highlights, appreciates her freedom of speech because of its rarity.

“I appreciate being able to write what I want because I know people all over the world do not have that right,” Kabashi said. “It is extremely important to me as a student journalist to address the issues I know are meaningful. Knowing that my rights are protected is the best feeling in the world!”

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