Pennsylvania drops plan that threatened freedom of student journalists

The Pennsylvania state board of education, after being heavily criticized by newspapers across that state, has decided not to tamper with regulations protecting the rights of student journalists.

The announcement, which came at a hearing held May 15 in Harrisburg, ends months of lobbying by high school journalists, advisers and professional newspapers. The board had proposed revisions last fall that would have reduced approximately 24 paragraphs that detailed 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 board had proposed removing the word “immediate,” which would have made it easier to censor student journalists, said George Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Press Association. Another proposal would have prohibited material that was “plainly offensive” — a vague term that could be defined in many different ways.

“Everyone was a winner here,” Taylor said. “The board was a winner, we were a winner, principals were winners and student journalists were winners. Everybody wins by keeping the guidelines in place.”

Taylor said the board will hold three more hearings in the coming months in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. If no changes are made following that process, the regulations would remain intact as they have since their adoption in 1984.

SPLC View: Again, public pressure and support was what this victory was all about. Congratulations to George Taylor and the PSPA for leading the fight. This was a big win for Pennsylvania high school students.