NEW JERSEY — The New Jersey Senate Education Committee unanimously voted in favor of a New Voices bill after hearing testimony from student journalists and advocates. The bill heads to the Senate floor next.
S1176 was sponsored by state senators Nia Gill (D) and Shirley Turner (D) and co-sponsored by Michael Doherty (R) and Troy Singleton (D).
“We are very, very thankful to Senator Gill for sponsoring this,” said John Tagliareni, a former journalism teacher at Bergenfield High School in Bergenfield, a board member of the Garden State Scholastic Press Association and one of the leaders of the New Jersey New Voices movement. “The bipartisan support has been really important. Many of the legislators are pretty far apart when it comes to being conservative or being liberal, but this is something that they have been able to agree on.”
New Voices is a student-powered nonpartisan grassroots movement of state-based activists who seek to protect student press freedom with state laws. They include advocates in law, education, journalism and civics who want schools and colleges to be more welcoming places for student voices. 14 states have passed New Voices laws.
Three students testified in favor of the bill. So did representatives from the Garden State Scholastic Press Association, the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the New Jersey New Voices movement, and the Student Press Law Center.
Only one person spoke against the bill: Debra Bradley from the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, who voiced concerns that the bill would give students the same rights to freedom of expression as adults, and said her organization supported the standards set by the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court case.
SPLC Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean called student speech law under Hazelwood “vague and inadequate for teaching sound principles of journalistic integrity.”
She pointed out that the bill would “restore the level of free speech afforded to students in the famous 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines case.”
The Tinker standard only allows school officials to censor school sponsored student speech if it is defamatory, an invasion of privacy, incites violence, or causes a material and substantial disruption to the school day in order to censor student speech. The bill reflects these standards.
The bill “provides that a student at a public school or a public institution of higher education who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records, or prepares information for dissemination in school-sponsored media has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press, and is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of the school-sponsored media.”
It also requires school districts to adopt written policies concerning freedom of student expression.
The Hazelwood decision made it much easier for school officials to censor student speech than Tinker. It said that administrators could censor publications for any “reasonable, legitimate, pedagogical purpose.”
“That vague standard could mean just about anything,” said Dean. “We’ve seen over the past few decades school administrators misapply it to stories that are critical of the school or stories that may just make the school look bad.”
Many of the legislators are pretty far apart when it comes to being conservative or being liberal, but this [bill] is something that they have been able to agree on.John Tagliareni, former journalism teacher and former GSSPA president
Tom McHale, a journalism teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, called upon legislators to consider the changing times and power of social media.
“In 2019, every student already has the power to publish. This wasn’t the case in 1988 when the Supreme Court decided in Hazelwood that administrators needed to have more control over scholastic publications,” said McHale. “That isn’t the world we live in today. Student publications today … are rarely breaking news. Instead, they provide context and facts to things students are already talking and posting about. They dispel rumors by reporting and fact-checking rather than reporting hearsay and innuendo.”
Tagliareni said advocates have been working on a student press freedom bill in New Jersey since the Hazelwood decision. He and McHale started working together about five years ago to get the New Voices bill before the New Jersey legislature. Frank LoMonte, the Student Press Law Center’s senior legal fellow, provided them with advice and assistance.
“All of the time and effort is finally paying off,” said Tagliareni. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Censoring students teaches them that their voices don’t matter. This is what will destroy an academic environment. That is what goes against everything an educational institution stands for.Katy Temple, student journalist
This is the second time the bill has been introduced in the senate and the third time it has been introduced in the assembly. An identical bill, A238 has been introduced this session in the assembly.
Tagliareni said that he hopes that if this bill passes in New Jersey, it will build momentum for similar bills to pass in states that do not have student press freedom laws yet, including New York.
Katy Temple, former editor-in-chief of The Torch at Bergen Community College and a student journalist at Columbia University, worked closely with educators and legislators who backed the bill. Student press freedom was Temple’s platform when she competed in the Miss New Jersey pageant.
“If we want good and ethical journalists tomorrow, we need to be training them in school today. That means they need to be allowed to write and publish freely in their schools under guidelines that mirror the guidelines used by professionals … if we can’t learn that now, we can’t be proper journalists in the future. None of this will happen if censorship of student media in the state continues down the path it is on,” said Temple in her testimony.
“Censoring students teaches them that their voices don’t matter. This is what will destroy an academic environment. That is what goes against everything an educational institution stands for.”
Tagliareni said that based on what Gill told him, the bill probably will not be heard on the Senate floor until September, but he is hopeful of the outcome.
“[The unanimous vote] is a great sign that this will go in the Senate and pass, and we will be hopeful that it will pass in the assembly,” said Tagliareni. “This is really exciting.”
*Correction: A previous version of this story misstated that John Tagliareni is currently a journalism teacher at Bergenfield High School. We corrected it to say that he is a former journalism teacher at Bergenfield, as well as the former president of the Golden State Scholastic Press Association.
SPLC reporter Ginny Bixby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow her on Twitter at @Ginny_Bixby. 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.