In addition to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states can provide additional free speech protection to their own citizens by enacting state laws or regulations. The Pennsylvania Code’s section on Student Rights and Responsibilities is such a provision and provides student journalists attending Pennsylvania public high schools with added protection against administrative censorship.
The Pennsylvania Public School Code is a group of laws that deals with governance and operations of public schools. The State Board of Education proposes changes and additions to this code, which must ultimately be approved by the Pennsylvania House and Senate Education Committees as well as the state Attorney General before becoming law.
22 Pa. Code § 12.9. Freedom of expression:
(a) The right of public school students to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United states and the Constitution of the Commonwealth.
(b) Students shall have the right to express themselves unless the expression materially and substantially interferes with the educational process, threatens serious harm to the school or community, encourages unlawful activity or interferes with another individual’s rights.
(c) Students may use publications, handbills, announcements, assemblies, group meetings, buttons, armbands and any other means of common communication, provided that the use of public school communications facilities shall be in accordance with the regulations of the authority in charge of those facilities.
(1) Students have the responsibility to obey laws governing libel and obscenity and to be aware of the full meaning of their expression.
(2) Students have the responsibility to be aware of the feelings and opinions of others and to give others a fair opportunity to express their views.
(d) Identification of the individual student or at least one responsible person in a student group may be required on posted or distributed materials.
(e) School officials may require students to submit for prior approval a copy of materials to be displayed, posted or distributed on school property.
(f) Bulletin boards must conform to the following:
(1) School authorities may restrict the use of certain bulletin boards.
(2) Bulletin board space should be provided for the use of students and student organizations.
(3) School officials may require that notices or other communications be officially dated before posting, and that the materials be removed after a prescribed reasonable time to assure full access to the bulletin boards.
(g) School newspapers and publications must conform to the following:
(1) Students have a right and are as free as editors of other newspapers to report the news and to editorialize within the provisions in paragraphs (4) and (5).
(2) School officials shall supervise student newspapers published with school equipment, remove obscene or libelous material and edit other material that would cause a substantial disruption or interference with school activities.
(3) School officials may not censor or restrict material simply because it is critical of the school or its administration.
(4) Prior approval procedures regarding copy for school newspapers must identify the individual to whom the material is to be submitted and establish a limitation on the time required to make a decision. If the prescribed time for approval elapses without a decision, the material shall be considered authorized for distribution.
(5) Students who are not members of the newspaper staff shall have access to its pages. Written criteria for submission of material by nonstaff members shall be developed and distributed to all students.
(h) The wearing of buttons, badges or armbands shall be permitted as another form of expression within the restrictions listed in subsection (c).
(i) School officials may set forth the time and place of distribution of materials so that distribution would not materially or substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school.
(1) A proper time and place set for distribution is one that would give the students the opportunity to reach fellow students.
(2) The place of the activity may be restricted to permit the normal flow of traffic within the school and at exterior doors.
The provisions of this § 12.9 amended under section 2603-B of the Public School Code of 1949 (24 P. S. § 26-2603-B).
The provisions of this § 12.9 amended February 17, 1984, effective February 18, 1984, 14 Pa.B. 520; amended December 2, 2005, effective December 3, 2005, 35 Pa.B. 6510, 6658.