Student press law close enough to taste

ILLINOIS — High school student journalists have suffered another setback in their 8-year battle to secure stronger press freedoms.Following a string of surprising moves, the Illinois Senate vote on a state Student Publications Act, which would have given greater freedom of expression protections to high school journalists, was canceled on Nov. 14.The Senate had unanimously approved House Bill 154 in May before it was vetoed by Gov. Jim Edgar in August.The decision to withdraw the veto override motion came after a roll call revealed that many Senators had moved to the Governor’s side after being inundated with faxes protesting the bill, explained the bill’s sponsor Sen. Kathy Parker (R-Northfield.)Claiming that the bill would create greater liability for school boards, the School Management Alliance, a coalition of school boards, principals and other school administrators from throughout the state, asked residents to urge senators to vote no on the veto override.”The School Management Alliance did a good job confusing enough people,” said Parker, who canceled the vote after consulting members of the Illinois Journalism Education Association.The School Management Alliance increased its opposition efforts after the House of Representatives voted 98-19 on Oct. 29 to override Gov. Edgar’s veto.”In our opinion, there’s no way you can have a situation where you tell the school administration they have no control over the student paper,” said Ben Schwarm, a lobbyist for the Alliance.The state Journalism Education Association is working hard to uncover the “ins and outs” of the Alliance’s actions prior to the vote. “We have to have their support to go anywhere [in the future]” said JEA’s executive director, James Tidwell. “It’s hopeless if we don’t have them on board.”Tidwell and Parker agree that the fate of student press legislation in Illinois could depend on the federal court of appeals decision in Yeo v. Lexington.Illinois administrators expressed concern about school liability when Lexington High School in Massachusetts was sued after students rejected an advertisement submitted to their student publications, despite a state student press law similar to the one Illinois almost passed.”The school administrators originally supported the bill until they became concerned with [the Lexington case]. Our contention was that [that case] had nothing to do with our legislation,” said Parker.Illinois legislators have been trying to secure a free expression bill for students since their press freedoms were weakened by the Supreme Court’s 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision.The current bill was introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw (R-Naperville).”This is disappointing, but legislation can take a long time,” said Parker who hopes the bill will be reintroduced in the spring.