KENTUCKY — With the help of his state representative, acollege sophomore in Kentucky has initiated a bill in the Commonwealth’s Houseof Representatives that seeks to combat post-Hazelwood student pressrights restrictions.
Western Kentucky University student Josh Moore has been involved in studentjournalism since his high school days, and he recognizes that student mediaoutlets can be important venues for young people to learn and practice the rulesof the trade. That learning experience, he says, should not be curtailed byadministrative censorship.
“I just think that to better educate student journalists not onlyshould they be taught what journalists have to do, but they should practice thatresponsibility,” he said. “If they’re the ones makingdecisions about the content of their papers, then they are also going to be theones that have to deal with the consequences and understand the responsibilitythat goes along with those rights that journalists have.”
In spring 2008, Moore began researching anti-censorship laws in otherstates, consulted the Student Press Law Center Web site for ideas, and enlistedthe help of Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, to draw up a proposal for his state.Yonts introduced HB 43 in the Kentucky House of Representatives on Jan. 6, andit was referred to the Education Committee Jan. 7.
The proposed bill gives high school student journalists the right to freespeech and press in student-produced media “whether or not the media aresupported financially by the school or by the use of school facilities or areproduced in conjunction with a high school class.”
Aside from limitations for libelous expression, an unwarranted invasion ofprivacy, and the provocation of danger or disruption on campus, the bill allowsstudents freedom in “determining the news, opinions, feature, andadvertising content” for their publications. Also included is a provisionprotecting advisers who refuse to suppress the “protected expression ofstudents.”
Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusettsand Oregon all have laws restoring to high school media the First Amendmentprotection that was reduced by the Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling inHazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, in which the Supreme Courtdecided that public high school newspapers that were not established as publicforums are subject to lesser First Amendment protection. California and Kansasalso have retaliation protection for advisers similar to what Yonts is proposingin Kentucky.
According to Yonts, he does not currently see a problem in Kentucky withstudent media censorship, but said if passed, this bill would “simply setthe standard” for what student press regulations are and are notacceptable.
Not all those working in education in Kentucky are happy with the bill,though.
“We feel strongly that high school students are still in that agewhere they need guidance and direction,” said David Baird, director ofgovernmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association.
While Moore maintains the bill would afford students a better learningexperience in media production, Baird believes the opposite.
“Working professionally [as a journalist], youwould still have an editor,” he said, comparing administrator control with that ofa professional newsroom editor. He added, “Our job is to teach kids aboutthe real world.”
For now, Moore is busy shoring up support and attempting to convince hisdissenters. With the help of the Kentucky High School Journalism Association andthe Kentucky Press Association, Moore has sent out e-mails and letters tojournalism educators across his state. He also created a Facebook group,”Kentuckians for a Free Student Press,” and a Web site,KYstudentpress.org.
“Right now we are just trying to get as many students, journalismadvisers, professors, anyone interested to write letters, e-mails or call theirlegislator and voice their support for the bill,” Moore said.”We’re hoping that the school board association comes around to theidea of better journalism education.”
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