The issues on today’s public school and university campuses are everything the larger society is wrestling with — personal safety, gender equity and racial bias among them.
Administrators might think they know best how to contend with these subjects, but others understand our young people experience these issues in intensely personal ways, have insights adults lack and can contribute greatly to making things better.
In this spirit, we endorse the role of a student press on our high school and university campuses. Supervised student publications and online sites reflect the work and views of young people growing into adulthood, learning and using the tools of professional journalism to report on public affairs and contribute to the understanding of important issues.
In addition, we support a movement across the country to strengthen free-press protections by ensuring students’ voices are not silenced simply because a campus newspaper, website or broadcast might broach a challenging or unpopular subject.
A proposal in the Missouri General Assembly titled the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act would protect student journalists from censorship, even if the content is produced for a school-funded publication or uses facilities owned by a school or university. School officials would retain the right to review content prior to publication but would not be allowed to stop publication except in those instances where the content was deemed libelous, slanderous, illegal, an invasion of privacy or likely to incite a disturbance.
The measure is a response to a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held St. Louis high school students’ freedom of speech rights were not violated when the principal prohibited publication of two articles, including one about teenage pregnancy.
The director of the Virginia-based Student Press Law Center, Frank LoMonte, had it right when he told a Missouri House committee parents should not worry that their children might discuss challenging issues in school publications.
“We know that censorship doesn’t stop the discussion about that transgender student from taking place, it just relocates that discussion,” LoMonte said, according a report from Missouri Digital News. “It relocates it from the accountable, adult-supervised pages of student media to the unaccountable anything-goes pages of Twitter.
“So where would you prefer that discussion take place? Would you prefer it take place in an environment where students have to sign their real names, check their facts, correct their mistakes and answer to an adult educator, or would you prefer that it take place … where none of those things happen?”