Advocates storm statehouses to build support for students’ free expression

Twelve years after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark Hazelwooddecision limiting the free-press and free-expression rights of high schoolstudents, student press advocacy groups are still fighting for the statutoryrestoration of those rights in statehouses around the country. In Hazelwood, the High Court defined for the first time thespecific First Amendment protections provided to students working for school-sponsoredpublications. The majority opinion, written by Justice Byron White, grantedhigh school authorities the privilege of prior review and prior restraintof many “school-sponsored publications, theatrical productions and otherexpressive activities that students, parents, and members of the publicmight reasonably perceive to bear the [endorsement] of the school” if thoseofficials could show their censorship to be “reasonably related to [educational]concerns.” To combat this restriction on student press freedoms, defenders ofthe student press now look to state governments to enact what are commonlyreferred to as “anti-Hazelwood bills” that ensure and protect thestudent expression rights denied by the High Court in 1988. California has had such a law on its books since 1977. Five states– Massachusetts, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas and Arkansas — have enacted anti-Hazelwoodlegislation since 1988. Multiple efforts around the country fell short last year, but studentpress advocates in at least two states are readying their efforts for 2001,while four more are on deck for the near future, organizing grassrootsefforts and securing sponsors and supporters in their respective statelegislatures and assemblies. On the legislative front, organizers in Oregon are taking thelead on the issue. Kathleen Raley, adviser to the student newspaper atBrookings Harbor High School, where student journalists now refuse to publisha newspaper rather than submit to prior review, is leading the effort topass a bill drafted by Portland School Board member Marc Abrams, formerexecutive director of the Student Press Law Center. Raley said the bill has bipartisan support among Oregon legislators.The bill is also backed by the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists. The proposed bill would protect student newspapers from prior reviewand restraint, protect schools from legal liability and protect advisersfrom retaliation for a publication’s content. The bill’s supporters explainedthe importance of the issue in an information packet distributed to Oregonlegislators.

“The test of an education is whether we have trained students to takeup their roles as responsible citizens upon graduation. That doesn