The Student Journalists’ Freedom of Expression Act was introduced on February 16, 2017, and signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo on July 18, 2017. The law guarantees the right of student journalists to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of the press in both school-sponsored and non-school-sponsored media. The law also protects media advisers from retaliation for protecting student speech. The act was effective upon passage.
STUDENT JOURNALISTS’ FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ACT
16-109-1. Short title.
This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Student Journalists’ Freedom of Expression Act”.
As used in this section:
(1) “School-sponsored media” means any material that is prepared, substantially written,published, or broadcast by a student journalist at an institution under the supervision of the council on elementary and secondary education and the council on post secondary education, both public and private, distributed, or generally made available to members of the student body, and prepared under the direction of a student media advisor. School-sponsored media does not include content intended for distribution or transmission only in the classroom in which it is produced.
(2) “Student journalist” means a student of an institution under the supervision of the council on elementary and secondary education and the council on post secondary education, both public and private, who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records, or prepares information for dissemination in school-sponsored media.
(3) “Student media advisor” means an individual employed, appointed, or designated by an institution under the supervision of the council on elementary and secondary education and the council on post secondary education, both public and private, to supervise or provide instruction relating to school-sponsored media.
16-109-3. Student journalists’ freedom of expression — Civil remedy.
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, a student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in both school-sponsored media and non-school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school, local education agency “(LEA)”, or uses the facilities of the school or LEA, or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled. Subject to subsection (b) of this section, a student journalist is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. This subsection may not be construed to prevent a student media advisor from teaching professional standards of English and journalism to student journalists.
(b) This section does not authorize or protect expression by a student that:
(1) Is libelous or slanderous;
(2) Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
(3) Violates federal or state law; or
(4) So incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of school district policy, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the institution. Administrators must base a forecast of material and substantial disruption on specific facts, including past experience in the school and current events influencing student behavior, and not on undifferentiated fear or apprehension.
(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing the publication of an advertisement in school-sponsored media at an institution under the supervision of the council on elementary and secondary education that promotes the purchase of a product or service that is unlawful for purchase or use by minors.
(d) A student journalist may not be disciplined for acting in accordance with subsection (a) of this section.
(e) A student media advisor may not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned,transferred, or otherwise retaliated against for:
(1) Acting to protect a student journalist engaged in permissible conduct under subsection (a) of this section; or
(2) Refusing to infringe on conduct that is protected by this chapter or the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
(f) Each institution, school, or LEA subject to this chapter may adopt a written student freedom of expression policy in accordance with this section. The policy must include reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of student expression. For institutions under the supervision of the council on elementary and secondary education, the policy may also include limitations to language that may be defined as profane, harassing, threatening, or intimidating.
(g) No expression made by students in the exercise of free speech or free press rights shall be deemed to be an expression of school policy, and no school officials or school district shall be held responsible in any civil or criminal action for any expression made or published by students.
(h) Any student, individually or through a parent or guardian, or student media advisor may institute proceedings for injunctive or declaratory relief in any court of competent jurisdiction to enforce the rights provided in this section.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon passage.