Students rally in protest of proposed policy giving administrators freedom to censor

FLORIDA — More than 200 south Florida students rallied outside the Miami-Dade school board building June 10 in favor of freedom of speech and of the press rights they said might be in jeopardy.

The protest centered around a district sponsored draft of rules that the students fear may change the current policy of guarded free expression. The existing policy, which was last amended in 1994, is nationally recognized for it’s support for freedom of the press.

As stated in the drafted policy changes, “Schools may exercise editorial control over the style and content of student speech … as long as the actions of the school are reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns.”

The students at the rally, who represented each of the senior high schools and many of the junior high schools in the district, chanted “No prior review,” held up signs stating “Censorship is un-American,” and listened to speeches from other students who spoke in favor of First Amendment rights.

Candace Brooks, a sophomore from Miami Beach High School, spoke in front of the crowd behind a large backdrop poster bearing the phrase, “You may not have converted a man because you have silenced him,” from English statesman John Morley.

“I don’t think anyone should tell us what to say or not to say,” Brooks said as reported in the Miami Herald. “Isn’t that what our forefathers came to America for?”

The rally, which started at 4:30 p.m., ended as the crowd moved into the district building for the school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. During the public forum segment of the meeting, several students and professionals spoke before the nine member board.

“I left Cuba in 1994 in search of freedom of speech, of religion and to express what I think is right and wrong … and I think it has been a fantastic two years because I have been able to express my First Amendment rights that guarantee free expression,” said Ivan Melcon, a student from Coral Gables Senior High School. “Prior review would contradict the basis of democracy.”

Coral Gables Senior High School newspaper adviser Brenda Feldman, who helped her journalism students prepare for the event, said the rally pushed the issue of freedom of speech in the district into the limelight.

“The students were definitely visible,” Feldman said. “I think it was well worth the effort.”

Feldman, however, was quick to note that the board could still vote on the drafted rules in future meetings.

“There will always be those who want to control what students say and do,” she said. “I don’t breathe a sigh of relief, rather I think to myself we’ve done a good job so far of supporting the First Amendment.”