Teachers group resolves to educate members about student press rights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Education Association, a 2.7-million member organization of teachers and educators, has passed a resolution calling for a campaign to educate its members about student press rights and the resources available to protect those rights.

The resolution was adopted at the organization’s national conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 5.

The resolution calls for the NEA to “investigate and report in its publications the present status of student freedom of speech in light of the [Supreme Court’s1988] Hazelwood decision and State constitutions, and inform members of available resources such as the Student Press Law Center that can assist in protecting students’ free speech rights.”

The resolution was introduced by Charles Haas, the student newspaper adviser at Randolph High School in Randolph, N.J. Haas said the inspiration for New Business Item No. 40, the student press resolution, came from the recognition that many educators and media advisers know little about the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier ruling, which limited students’ expression rights in some school-sponsored media.

“It dawned on me that roughly 20 years had passed since the Hazelwood decision, and I believe that there have been any number of decisions at the state level–and sometimes even at the local level–that have softened the impact of Hazelwood,” Haas said. “So that’s basically what my goal was, to take a snapshot of where we are, 20 years after Hazelwood, and inform people that Hazelwood is not necessarily a totally slammed door.”

“Information is power,” Haas said, adding that he would like to see the NEA update its members on the state-by-state impact of the Hazelwood decision, including any legislation or amendments that were enacted to counter its effects. The campaign will also help advisers who stand up to censor-prone school officials, Haas said.

“[School officials] really need to be educated in terms of what the current thinking is as well, and in some cases it falls to the adviser to do that educating,” Haas said.

Haas said NEA delegates were “overwhelmingly in favor” of the measure, which passed handily at the convention.

According to NEA spokeswoman Staci Maiers, the NEA will publish information about student free press rights in one or more of its publications, which go out to all of the organization’s members. The articles would appear within the next year, she estimated.

“The National Education Association has had a long history of standing up for the free speech rights of students,” Maiers said. “Our members thought the rationale behind new business item 40 was important, and that’s why it is now part of the NEA’s official policy.”

–Campbell Roth