House committee approves student freedom of expression bill

ALABAMA — The House Education Committee unanimouslyapproved a bill Wednesday that would guarantee freedom of expressionto public school students in school-sponsored publications.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, states thatstudent editors will be responsible for determining the contentof their publications, but the final decision will be made bythe publication’s faculty adviser. The bill forbids school administratorsfrom reviewing student publications before they are distributed.

The committee’s vote puts the legislation in line for debateby the entire House of Representatives.

During a hearing the committee held on the bill, Bill Keller,director of the Alabama Press Association and Monica Hill, coordinatorof the Alabama Scholastic Press Association, spoke in favor ofthe legislation.

Hill said supporters tried to have the section of the billgranting final content decisions to advisers removed, but committeemembers voted to keep it. Hill said she hopes the provision willbe removed before the House votes on the final version of thebill.

Cathy McCandless, a journalism adviser who also spoke beforethe committee in favor of the legislation, teaches at SparkmanHigh School — the same school where Schmitz teaches governmentseveral times a week. McCandless said she asked Schmitz, who servedas newspaper adviser until 1992, to sponsor the legislation.

"At a lot of schools in Alabama, I think the studentsare [being] denied freedom of expression," McCandless said."We don’t particularly have that problem here at Sparkman,but there are other schools [where] I know there are problems,and I think it’s important. It’s important to me and importantto the students."

The text of HB 573 is available on the Alabama legislature’s Web site.