Student Journalists’ Rights Must Be Protected

Virginia House Bill 2382 provides student journalists with necessary freedoms

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Student Journalists’ Rights Must Be Protected

Fighting for Freedom-This is the first page of  Virginia House Bill 2382. The entire bill will be presented on Jan 28., 2019.

Fighting for Freedom-This is the first page of Virginia House Bill 2382. The entire bill will be presented on Jan 28., 2019.

Fighting for Freedom-This is the first page of Virginia House Bill 2382. The entire bill will be presented on Jan 28., 2019.

Fighting for Freedom-This is the first page of Virginia House Bill 2382. The entire bill will be presented on Jan 28., 2019.

Nicholas Lohman, News Editor

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During a time when polarized viewpoints blind people’s perspectives, it is ironic and unfortunate that adults are teaching a new generation the values they despise.  In many schools across the country and in Virginia, it is common for dissenting opinions to be ostracized by those meant to promote free thought, expression, and speech.

Throughout all student media platforms, school boards and administrations force students to conform to their values as well as policies at the cost of students’ unrelinquished 1st amendment rights and are currently protected by Virginia state law.

Legislation, designed at returning the constitutional rights endowed to students is necessary. Virginia House Bill 2382, “New Voices Act legislation,” provides the measures to achieve this and protects student journalists and their advisors.

In 1969, landmark supreme court case, Tinker v. Des Moines, ruled that student media could not be censored unless it incited violence or a major disruption to the learning environment. This precedent, which protected student journalists, was weakened in 1988 following another supreme court ruling. Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which stated that school boards and administrations had the right to ban any media that was contrary to the values of their institutions, lessened the power of the student press.

The New Voices organization aims to reinstate the rights that student journalists lost after the ruling through new legislation.

“[This] legislation… restores [student] journalists to having protection to what [they] used to have under the Tinker standard,” said Chris Hurst, Virginia House Delegate and Chief Patron of Bill 2382.

Currently, some schools, including McLean High School, have opted to adopt Tinker v. Des Moines standards. This ensures that student press is protected at McLean, but many student press organizations in Virginia are not as fortunate.

“We’ve had instances across the Commonwealth in recent years, where principals and administrators have prevented stories from being published that simply cover uncomfortable or taboo topics,” Hurst said. “Just because the principal may disagree with the editorial content of the newspaper shouldn’t mean that they’re able to have carte blanche control over what that student media publication puts out.”

The content that is censored has the capability to inform the public of issues at particular schools that may otherwise go undetected.

News stories produced at McLean High School, for instance, have garnered attention from local news stations.

“The public should want this [bill] to be put into place because [it] would help them …know about issues that are arising with any public school sooner than they otherwise would,” Hurst said. “The sooner that we know about these issues in our public schools, which are deeply a great part of our community, the better off we’ll all be in addressing those issues.”

The bill provides school boards the opportunity to censor media on as few as four criteria. These include “Libelous or slanderous [material], [material that] constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates federal or state law” or incites violence or disruption, according to Bill 2382.

The bill’s leniency fosters exposure to opposing viewpoints and investigative stories that benefit entire communities.

“The professional press reports on matters having to deal with students all the time, and who knows about those issues: it’s students themselves and student journalists,” Hurst said.  “So if they are able to have the opportunity of reporting articles with more protection and less fear, I think the public as a whole is the [bill’s] main beneficiary.”

New Voices legislation does not ignore the Supreme Court precedent set by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. It merely stops schools’ exploitation of the ruling.

“We are censoring students right now who are doing quality journalism, where they are trying to report articles that are of the public interest,” Hurst said. “ If there are individual principles, administrators, or school board members who had been onerous or egregious in their censorship in recent years I think it would give them great pause as to whether or not continue that censorship into the future.”

Excessive censorship could potentially lead to less people who pursue a career in journalism at a time when communities need more journalists. There is a shortage of local reporters, which according to the Washington Post, “has become a crisis of democracy.”

“The new bill [will] hopefully… increase the ability for young journalists to hone their craft and to decide whether or not they want to pursue [journalism] professionally or in college,” Hurst said. “That will be of a huge service to the Commonwealth because in this time that we live in right now, we need more people who are interested in careers in journalism, not fewer people.”

Journalism classes provide pre-professional training similar to many other courses, yet, without proper school board policies,  they are often to be taught incorrectly. New Voices legislation fixes this problem. As a whole New Voices will provide the state with many benefits, such as an influx of journalists, and will help save the future of discourse and free speech.

“This bill is something that is long overdue for ensuring that we have protections for journalists who are trying to experience a potential career pathway and who are trying to express themselves freely,” Hurst said. “Anybody who may be afraid of what the students may come up with need to understand that we empower students to learn how to work underneath cars; to maybe become mechanics when they’re in high school. In college, we give them blow torches, and we give them lades and hammers to potentially become carpenters or machinists . We shouldn’t be afraid of them having those tools in their hands. So why should we be afraid of [student journalists] having a pen.”

Contact your district delegate and district senator to tell them to support House Bill 2382. The first vote on the bill takes place on Jan. 28, 2019.

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