Legislation designed to protect student expression in school-sponsoredpublications died in Alabama in April after the bill’s sponsor withdrewit from consideration. Alabama was the only state where a student free-expressionbill was introduced this spring.
Cathy McCandless, a student newspaper adviser and supporter of the bill,said the legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, withdrew thebill because other legislators wanted to add amendments that would havedestroyed its intent.
According to McCandless, one legislator introduced an amendment thatwould have changed the wording of a section of the bill from stating thatno student publications may be subject to prior review by school administratorsto stating that all publications may be subject to prior review.
“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” McCandless said in referenceto the bill’s demise. “We know now who our opposition is in the House.”
The House Education Committee had unanimously approved HB 573 in March.
McCandless, who spoke before the committee in favor of the bill, teachesat Sparkman High School in Harvest — the same school where Schmitz teachesgovernment several times a week. McCandless said she asked Schmitz, whoserved as newspaper adviser until 1992, to sponsor the legislation.
“At a lot of schools in Alabama, I think the students are [being] deniedfreedom of expression,” McCandless said. “We don’t particularly have thatproblem here at Sparkman, but there are other schools [where] I know thereare problems, and I think it’s important. It’s important to me and importantto the students.”
The fight for a student free-expression bill is not over, McCandlesssaid.
“As long as I live in Alabama, and as long as I have a sponsor in theHouse, I will push this bill,” she said.
In Nebraska, a student free-expression bill held over from lastyear’s legislative session died in January after it failed to garner the25 votes necessary for it to advance.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Beutler, D-Lincoln, would have encouraged,but not required, public school boards to adopt student freedom of expressioncodes for school-sponsored publications.
Under the legislation, school boards would have been allowed to settheir own policies for what could appear in school-sponsored publications,such as student newspapers or yearbooks. School boards that did not adopttheir own policies would have been required to follow the publicationspolicy set by the bill.
Seventeen senators voted to advance LB 182 to the legislature’s selectfile, with 23 against. If the bill had advanced, it would have been debatedagain and then put to a final vote.
John Bender, a professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln anda supporter of the bill, said the legislation was caught between two factions:those opposed to any limitation on a school administrator’s discretionas to what could be printed in a school-sponsored publication and thoseconcerned that the bill’s failure to force local school boards to adoptfree-expression codes would cause them to enact even more restrictive policies.
“Between those two extremes, there was not much ground for us to standon,” Bender said, adding that he was unsure whether similar legislationwould be introduced in Nebraska next year.
In Oregon, a principal’s decision to censor the school newspaperprovoked a campaign by students at Brookings-Harbor High School to passa state law protecting students’ freedom of expression.
Supporters of the legislation want to introduce a bill when the legislatureconvenes next year.
Student free-press supporters in Washington are also workingto pass legislation protecting student free expression in school-sponsoredpublications. They plan to introduce a bill when the legislature meetsnext year.