Bill would provide more protections for student journalists

Legislative Gazette photo by James Heffernan
Senator Kavanaugh, at podium, and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, right, speak to student journalists to promote the Student Journalist Free Speech Act. This bill would expand students’ First Amendment rights.

Student journalists are working with Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo to pass the Student Journalist Free Speech Act – legislation that would give students more autonomy over the content of their high school newspapers.

About 60 students came to the Capitol recently to celebrate Student Press Advocacy Day and meet with lawmakers to promote the legislation (S.2297/A.3097) that protects students from “administrative censorship.”

In many states including New York, school administrators have the authority to prohibit content from being published in school newspapers over the objection of student journalists. This bill would guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of the press to the student journalists by giving them final editorial control, rather than school administrators.

“Student Journalism is under attack” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo “We need to ensure that student journalists have the same protection as journalists”

The bill was inspired, in part, by recent headlines.

In April 2017, a group of six high school students from southeastern Kansas were writing an article about their new principal in the school newspaper when they discovered problems and discrepancies with her college degrees and credentials. Despite pressure from some adults to drop the story, the students persisted and the unqualified principal was forced to resign. The story made local and national news, including an account in The Washington Post.

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic spoke at Student Press Advocacy Day to say that freedom of expression should be fostered at the high school level so that students can learn about ethical journalism and civics.

“Your voices deserve to be heard, respected and appreciated” Rozic said. “Never be afraid to let your voice be heard.”

The Student Journalist Free Speech Act does not allow the publication of content that is libelous or an invasion of privacy. Content that might incite students to break the law, violate school policies, or disrupt the orderly operation of the school is also not protected under the bill.

Instead, the aim of the bill is to prohibit prior restraint by school administrators and to put the legal burden on school officials to demonstrate why content should be banned.

The bill also specifically states that faculty who serve as advisers to student newspapers cannot be fired or punished in any way for assisting student journalists with controversial news stories.

The legislation is supported by the New York Public Interest Research Group. It currently resides in the Education Committees in both the Senate and Assembly.

“This is a nonpartisan issue from start to finish,” Kavanagh said. “New York State students deserve full access to their First Amendment rights.”