NEW YORK – Supporters for student press freedoms descended on the New York statehouse in Albany on April 30 to raise the profile on a measure to protect the First Amendment rights of high school journalists who attend public schools.
The identical “New Voices” bills in the state Assembly (A03079) and Senate (S02297) — called the Student Journalist Free Speech Act — are both in education committees. The bills have not yet had a hearing in either chamber or their respective education committees.
More than 80 students traveled to Albany on April 30. They were joined by other advocates, media advisers and professors. They had dozens of meetings planned with lawmakers on the House and Senate education committees.
The bill is part of a nationwide effort to pass similar laws in state legislatures, which effectively counteract and clarify the limits of the 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision. The Hazelwood decision expanded the ability of public school administrators to control the content of student media.
Fourteen states already have New Voices laws on their books.
The bill, which has bipartisan support, already has more than 30 co-sponsors in the Assembly, with Prime Sponsor Donna Lupardo, D-123rd.
The prime sponsor of the Senate version, is Brian P. Kavanagh, D-26th, and has two co-sponsors so far, one a Republican and the other a Democrat. In 2019, the state Assembly and Senate are under the control of Democrats, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo also is a Democrat.
“Certainly at the close of today we’re hoping for a strong show of support from some of the senators,” said Mike Simons, the yearbook adviser at Corning-Painted Post High School and a key volunteer organizer behind the bill.
Casi Knorr, an editor of The Curtis Log school newspaper at Curtis High School on Staten Island, was one of the over 80 students who came to the capitol to meet with lawmakers and their staff.
Knorr said her high school principal allows the paper broad ability to publish what they see fit.
A couple years ago, the newspaper was able to report on a deli near the school that was selling cigarettes to kids. They did an undercover investigation where student journalists bought cigarettes, and wrote about it.
That story was an example of the important journalism all students should be able to practice, she said.
“There are other schools that don’t have that freedom that we do,” Knorr said.
This virtually unchecked censorship has taken away countless opportunities from student journalists who practice good, truthful and impactful journalismLauren Thomas, a member of yearbook staff at Corning-Painted Post High School
One of Knorr’s classmates, Zoe Taylor, writes for the Log. Taylor echoed Knorr, saying they are grateful for the leeway afforded to their newspaper.
Taylor was struck by the stories she heard about censorship.
“One of the students said there was a lead problem at their school, but the newspaper wasn’t allowed to report on it. But that’s a really important story,” Taylor said.
Another key volunteer organizer who was in Albany, Katina Paron, has been working on advancing press freedom for students for years in New York City. Paron heads the New York City High School Journalism Collaborative at Baruch College in Manhattan.
Paron said the “lobby day” was significant because it was the first time students truly took a leadership role. Many of the students who were able to lobby lawmakers were students from high schools like Curtis, where administrators don’t censor the newspaper. They were able to speak out, Paron said.
“Of the kids that were here, they have a lot of First Amendment rights in their school. They are not the ones facing the censorship,” Paron said.
An amendment is in the works that would provide an appeals process for students who feel they’re being censored or subjected to prior restraint, Simons said, with the language still being hashed out.
“It would give everybody some clear guidance on how a student journalist could proceed,” Simons said.
During a news conference before the state press corps, Assemblywoman Lupardo noted that she was a student journalist when Mary Beth Tinker won the landmark 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court decision. Its free speech protections serve as the standard for New Voices bills.
“It’s a full-circle moment for me, to be here, representing you in this cause,” Lupardo said.
Some of the high school students talked about how the restrictive Hazelwood decision hampers students’ ability to practice journalism freely.
“This virtually unchecked censorship has taken away countless opportunities from student journalists who practice good, truthful and impactful journalism,” said Lauren Thomas, a senior at Corning-Painted Post High School and a member of the yearbook staff.
With just eight weeks left in the session, supporters are hopeful they’ll continue to make progress before lawmakers head home.
The bill is supported by the leadership of organizations representing newspaper editors and publishers in New York state.
This is the second year a “New Voices” bill has been introduced in the Empire state. Last year, neither bill made it out of their respective education committees.
SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co.
Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free occasional News Roundup.