Vermont legislator proposes anti-Hazelwood law

VERMONT — The state legislature is 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 (S.46), 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 obscene, libelous or defamatory, or constitutes a privacy violation.

Similar laws, also known as anti-Hazelwood legislation, have been passed in five other states since the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier was issued in 1988. California enacted a student free press bill in 1977. The Hazelwood decision gave school administrators the authority to censor student speech if there is a “legitimate pedagogical concern.” Under the law currently being debated in Vermont, administrators could censor speech that “materially and substantially disrupts the orderly operation of the school,” according to the bill.

Helen Smith, director of the New England Scholastic Press Association, said she believes legislation such as this is sorely needed in Vermont.

“It’s been all these years since anything substantial has really happened in New England, so I really think its wonderful that they’re going ahead with it,” Smith said. “Because it’s just crucial.”

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.

–By Campbell Roth

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