Editorial: Act should be passed to protect student journalists

The Cronkite New Voices Act is named after famous journalist Walter Cronkite. If it passes, the law would protect student journalists whose papers are not protected as student forums. Photo from NASA.gov

School-sponsored media that isn’t established as a public forum can be censored by school administrations in Missouri. If the Cronkite New Voices Act passes, that will change.

The ECHO supports this bill.

The Cronkite New Voices Act has recently been scheduled a hearing on the Missouri Senate Education Committee on April 4.

After it passes the Senate, it will go to the governor for approval or veto. This act would give Missouri’s student journalists the same rights and protections of any journalist if it passes and becomes law. The New Voices bill would protect student journalists and student-media advisors from punitive action if they published a story against the will of school administration.

Several other states have passed similar bills including Illinois this past year. Last year, Missouri introduced a similar bill to the legislature. It passed the House and died in the Senate towards the end of the legislative session. The current bill is modeled after the New Voices Act that passed in New Hampshire.

The ECHO is a public forum, and is protected by Dean v. Utica since 2004. Page two of this ECHO includes the ECHO’s Editorial Policy which declares itself as a public forum. The ECHO’s editorial policy has included this statement for at least the last 30 years. Dean v. Utica stated that because Utica School Newspaper, The Arrow, was a “limited public forum” that the school censoring the paper was unconstitutional and breaking the First Amendment.

The presentation of news in any newspaper or “school-sponsored media” should be presented without a filter giving a undistorted view of what the journalist intended.

The purpose of a school-sponsored media is to allow students to practice as journalists (used as reasoning in Dean v. Utica). This entails being able to exercise the same rights as professional journalists.

Having restrictions on “school-sponsored media” doesn’t allow for the newspaper to serve its purpose if the school can censor its materials. Its purpose is presenting the reader with the most relevant news or news the newspaper staff feels needs to be publicized. If that is something that the school doesn’t like, so be it. If this is the case, the school newspaper is probably the most appropriate news source to cover it.

Hazelwood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier (1988) led to the introduction of New Voices Act when high school journalists filed suit against the Hazelwood School District. The students sued because they felt the administration broke their First Amendment rights by deleting two pages of their school newspaper, The Spectrum.

According to the case syllabus, the deleted section “included an article describing school students’ experiences with pregnancy and another article discussing the impact of divorce on students at the school.”

The Supreme Court ruled the deletion was not a violation of the students First Amendment rights. This shows that the First Amendment rights of between two journalists differ, one being an adult and the other a student. The case syllabus also says the types of school newspaper “cannot be characterized as a forum for public expression.”

After the Supreme Court decision, state legislatures introduced bills for statutory protection of student journalists. Such bills have introduced in over 20 states.

John Raimondo, associate principal, said he wants to promote First Amendment rights of students journalist. However, as a member of the school staff Raimondo can’t endorse the bill.

Missouri Interscholastic Press Association,The Missouri Journalism Education Association, the Missouri Press Association and the Missouri College Media Association have all expressed their support for the New Voices Act.

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