Thirteen years after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, student-press advocates continue to fight for the rights of student journalists taken away by that ruling.
The most immediate movement is in Pennsylvania, where the Pennsylvania School Press Association is rallying support to oppose proposed changes to the state school code that would put limits on what student publications can publish and remove protections that have been in the code since 1984.
New regulations, proposed by the state board of education, would reduce approximately 24 paragraphs that detail specific protection for student journalists to four paragraphs of broad regulations.
For example, the current guidelines state that ‘students have the right to express themselves unless the expression ‘ threatens immediate harm to the welfare of the school or community.’ The new legislation would remove the word ‘immediately,’ a change that troubles student-press advocates.
‘It reduces the notion of imminent harm,’ said Tom Eveslage, a professor of journalism at Temple University. ‘If they remove this sense of immediacy from the regulation, then it’s going to be far easier for administrators to [censor based on speculation].’
Another troubling change is a proposed addition prohibiting material that is ‘plainly offensive.’
‘This could be defined in many different ways,’ said Pennsylvania Newspaper Association attorney Kara Beem, who added that the change ‘has a lot of negative implications for the school newspapers and how they can maintain their rights to report stories.’
The proposed changes are unlikely to be ready for adoption until the 2003-04 school year.
In Alabama, supporters of student-press rights are going to take their third shot in as many years to pass a free-expression bill.
‘Rep. Sue Schmitz [D-Toney] is determined to continue her support for the student free-expression bill,’ said Monica Hill of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association. ‘She plans to introduce it for the third consecutive year when the next regular session begins Jan. 8, 2002.’
Officials in Indiana are trying to gather momentum to propose their own anti-Hazelwood legislation in the future. ‘We’re always interested in making a run at it,’ said Dennis Cripe, president of the Indiana High School Press Association, ‘but we’re waiting for the political climate to change a little bit.’
Pennsylvania’s proposed changes are available from the Pennsylvania School Press Association.