Pa. drops plan to alter education code

PENNSYLVANIA ‘ Rest is near for high school journalists who are concerned that their rights are at risk from the state board of education’s red pen. The board approved existing regulations in July, leaving student-press advocates hopeful that the state legislature will uphold the board’s decision.

In April 2001, the board proposed slicing 20 of the 24 paragraphs of a policy pertaining to freedom of expression from the state code. The provision was last amended in 1984. The cuts would not only have eliminated important rights of student journalists but also increased the censorship power of administrators.

At a hearing in June, concerned members of the press community testified to the importance of keeping the code in its original form.

Among the contested changes was the removal of ‘immediate’ from the provision stating ‘students have the right to express themselves unless the expression … threatens immediate harm to the welfare of the school or community.’

Omitting ‘immediate’ could prove ‘dangerous. It opens too many possibilities for a principal,’ said George Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Press Association.

The board originally set out to amend the Master Plan of Basic Education by removing outdated and gendered language, but many argued that the changes in the student-expression section compromised students’ rights to a free press. The board’s proposals were bombarded by criticism from teachers, advisers, students and professional journalists, resulting in the reinstatement of the original code.

‘There was a misunderstanding. We wanted to clean up the language, we didn’t want to change the intent of the code,’ said Luis Ramos, the chairman of the board’s Council on Basic Education.

Pennsylvania is one of only two states that gives additional rights to the student press in a state education code. Six other states have statutes protecting student-press rights.

If approved by the state Senate and House of Representatives, the code will take effect in the 2003-04 school year.