Protest attracts attention, approval

FLORIDA — If nothing else, the more than 200 students who rallied for free expression outside the Miami-Dade School Board building June 10 accomplished one thing: making themselves and their message visible to the public.As motorists passed by the rally, students jumped and cheered, screaming “No prior review.” When their cries were accepted with honks of agreement, the noise from the crowd only grew louder.To further illustrate their fervor for First Amendment rights, many students placed duct tape over their mouths symbolizing censorship, waved American flags and quoted famous patriots during speeches before their peers.The protest centered around a district-sponsored draft of rules that the students fear may change the current policy of unrestricted free speech. One of the proposed rules states principals can practice prior review of student publications.Behind a backdrop billboard stating, “You may not have converted a man because you have silenced him,” a quote from patriot John Morley, dozens of students spoke about their agreement with the First Amendment.”I don’t think anyone should tell us what to say or not to say,” Candace Brooks, a Miami Beach High School sophomore told the crowd. “Isn’t that what our forefathers came to America for?”Along with protesting outside the building, several students and professional journalists spoke before the nine-member school board during an open forum session.”Journalists of tomorrow should be involved in setting up their own rules, their own ethical standards instead of being ignored,” said Tracie Hunte, a student from Miami Norland Senior High School. “If you expect us to grow up to be upstanding citizens who obey the rules, shouldn’t you allow us to enjoy the rights that come with being an American?”That night, their message was spread out to an even larger audience as many television and radio stations in the Miami area broadcasted live and taped coverage of the rally during their news reports.Miami Palmetto High School student newspaper adviser Shirley Yaskin said the goal of the rally was to convince the school board to drop the idea of challenging student expression.”We want to convince the board to drop this issue forever,” she said. “This isn’t fair to students.”Although school board members have not announced whether they will vote on the proposed set of rules during upcoming meetings, those involved in organizing the event said they will stage a similar rally if the item ever appears on the agenda.”There will always be those who want to control what students say and do,” said Brenda Feldman, the student newspaper adviser at Coral Gables High School. “I don’t breath a sigh of relief, rather I think to myself we’ve done a good job so far of supporting the First Amendment.”