Kansas state legislator proposes prior review amendment

KANSAS — A change to Kansas’s public high school free expression statute was proposed Friday by state Rep. Don Myers (R-Derby) that calls for a three-person committee that could review student publication content before it is published.

Myers said the bill, HB 2325, is meant to offer “older peer review” by administrative and parental readers and still be “permissive” to student expression. The committee may exercise prior review, but the ultimate decision on content is left up to the student editor.

Under the amended statute, the committee is not required to review student work before publication.

The committee would include a member of the school board and a parent within the district, who would be appointed by the school board, and the school superintendent or designee. The bill does not include provisions for the inclusion of a student journalist, adviser or other person with journalism experience on the committee.

Myers said he was prompted to write the amendment by parents who were complaining about the material being covered in some student publications. He said there were a few unrelated incidents that raised a concern of “appropriateness” that he would not discuss.

It [would bring] in more mature thinking and community standards,” Myers said. “I think it will probably satisfy the community…that [the publications] had gone through some kind of process.”

Myers explained that “appropriate” topics differ between communities where some standards are more rigid than others. “I think community standards are important concerning adult [issues],” he said.

Kansas Scholastic Press Association Executive Director John Hudnall noted that the existing law already permits prior review and referred to the bill as an “extreme amount of legislation.”

The bill is an attempt to “gain outside control of the publication,” Hudnall said. “It’s just a logistical nightmare to anyone who’s trying to put out a newspaper under a deadline.”

According to Hudnall, topics such as tattoos and teenage pregnancy are some topics that have been questioned by parents and school officials in the state.

Kansas enacted the Kansas Student Free Expression Law in 1992 that has offered public high school students censorship protection with exception to the school’s ability to control the number, length, frequency, distribution and format of publications. It allows prior review by school officials, but does not require they review or approve of content.

The bill is currently with the education committee awaiting a scheduled hearing.

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer