Student free press legislation introduced in Michigan, Vermont

High school journalists in Michigan and Vermont may receive more freedom from administrative intervention when writing articles for their student media if recently proposed state legislation becomes law.

The so-called “anti-Hazelwood law” bills would grant their state’s high school students more press freedom rights, which were limited under the First Amendment after the 1988 landmark Supreme Court decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

The Michigan bill says that a school official or school board may not review or restrain a student publication prior to it being published, unless an article is obscene to minors, defaming or an invasion of privacy or poses a “clear and present danger” of illegal or substantially disruptive activity.

Sen. Michael Switalski (D-Roseville) introduced the bill on Feb. 3, which was then passed on to the Committee on Education where it will stay until the committee chair produces a response.

Switalski’s proposed legislation was largely influenced by a November 2004 decision in a lawsuit that was successfully brought by former Utica High School student Katy Dean against her Michigan school district after administrators removed her article and corresponding editorial about a lawsuit brought against the school district from the school newspaper.

Switalski’s legislative assistant, Brad Comment, said the bill’s purpose is to protect students’ First Amendment rights.


“We want [students] to learn and understand the importance of the First Amendment,” Comment said, adding that Sen. Switalski understands firsthand the importance of free press rights because he is a former journalist.

Gloria Olman, who was Katy Dean’s newspaper adviser and aided Switalski’s staff in formulating the bill, said she is unsure of how long the process could take for the bill to become law, but admitted that it could take months or years.

“I know it’s going to be a major battle,” Olman said. “But we will fight it.”

In Vermont, the state legislature is also considering a bill that would guarantee free-press rights to student journalists who write for school-sponsored publications.

The bill, Freedom of Speech and Press Rights for Students, was introduced by state Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham). Under the proposed law, students have freedom of speech and of the press in any publication that is supported financially by a school or produced in school, as long as the speech is not substantially disruptive, obscene, libelous or defamatory, or constitutes a privacy violation.  

The bill was introduced in the Education committee on Feb. 22. It will be heard again in committee on March 8, according to the Vermont legislature Web site.

SPLC View: It has been almost 11 years since Arkansas passed its anti-Hazelwood law, becoming the last of the six states to pass a student free press statute. (Two other states have state department of education regulations.) Absent a new Supreme Court decision or the passage of a federal law