After being halted in the House Judiciary Committee, the Vermont New Voices legislation was incorporated into House Bill 513, which was signed into law by Governor Phil Scott on May 23, 2017. The law was effective at passage and guarantees the freedom of speech and freedom of the press in all school-sponsored media at both public high schools and public colleges. The law prohibits prior restraint of publications and protects advisors and journalists from being disciplined or suspended in retaliation for their protected speech.
16 V.S.A. § 1623. Freedom of expression
(1) The General Assembly finds that freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental principles in our democratic society granted to every citizen of the nation by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and to every resident of this State by Vt. Const. Ch. I, Art. 13.
(2) These freedoms provide all citizens, including students, with the right to engage in robust and uninhibited discussion of issues.
(3) The General Assembly intends to ensure free speech and free press protections for both public school students and students at public institutions of higher education in this State in order to encourage students to become educated, informed, and responsible members of society.
(b) Definitions. As used in this chapter:
(1) “Media adviser” means an individual employed, appointed, or designated by a school or its governing body to supervise or provide instruction relating to school- sponsored media.
(2) “School” means a public school operating in the State.
(3) “School-sponsored media” means any material that is prepared, written, published, or broadcast as part of a school-supported program or activity by a student journalist and is distributed or generally made available as part of a school-supported program or activity to an audience beyond the classroom in which the material is produced.
(4) “Student journalist” means a student enrolled at a school who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records, or prepares information for dissemination in school- sponsored media.
(5) “Student supervisor” is a student who is responsible for editing school-sponsored media.
(c)(1) Subject to subsection (e) of this section, a student journalist may exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media.
(2) Subdivision (1) of this subsection shall not be construed to be limited by the fact that the school-sponsored media are:
(A) supported financially by a school or its governing body, or by use of facilities owned by the school; or
(B) produced in conjunction with a class in which the student journalist is enrolled.
(d)(1) Subject to subsection (e) of this section, the student supervisors of school- sponsored media are responsible for determining the content of their respective media.
(2) Subject to subdivision (1) of this subsection, a media adviser may teach professional standards of English and journalism to student journalists.
(e) This section shall not be construed to authorize or protect content of school- sponsored media that:
(1) is libelous or slanderous;
(2) constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
(3) may be defined as obscene, gratuitously profane, threatening, or intimidating;
(4) may be defined as harassment, hazing, or bullying under section 11 of this title;
(5) violates federal or State law; or
(6) creates the imminent danger of materially or substantially disrupting the ability of the school to perform its educational mission.
(f) A school is prohibited from subjecting school-sponsored media, other than that listed in subsection (e) of this section, to prior restraint. A school may restrain the distribution of content in student media described in subsection (e), provided that the school’s administration shall have the burden of providing lawful justification without undue delay. Content shall not be suppressed solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter, or is critical of the school or its administration.
(g) A student journalist may not be disciplined for acting in accordance with this section.
(h) A media adviser may not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, or transferred for:
(1) taking reasonable and appropriate action to protect a student journalist for engaging in conduct protected by this section; or
(2) refusing to infringe on conduct that is protected by this section, by the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, or by the Vermont Constitution.
(i) Each school or its governing body shall adopt a written policy consistent with the provisions of this section.
(j) No expression made by students in school-sponsored media shall be deemed to be an expression of school policy. (Added 2017, No. 49, § 46, eff. May 23, 2017.)