Hawaii and West Virginia are taking steps to protect student press freedom

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What do Hawaii and West Virginia have in common? They both took huge steps toward restoring and protecting student press freedom on February 3, when legislative committees in both states recommended New Voices legislation for passage.

Students in both states testified remotely before their representative Education committees, highlighting both the stories they have been able to tell and their hope that all student journalists will soon be able to do so. Hawaii student journalist Althea Cunningham told the committee: “I want all student journalists to be protected. I want them to be able to chase and report truth in confidence like how we can. Schools are supposed to help prepare students for the future, How is letting administrators get away with killing articles they don’t agree with helping our future journalists? This is not the ethics nor law I was taught. That is not how journalists works and that’s not how our schools should work.”

In West Virginia, Duncan Slade highlighted the recent work by WVU student journalists in reporting on health code violations at the university dining hall and decisions – since reversed – by the university to stop publishing COVID-19 health metrics. “Those are all stories that are … important because they hold the institution accountable,” he said. Emily Caracciolo agreed, saying, “I believe student journalism is too often relegated to second-class First Amendment status.”

This is the first time New Voices legislation has moved forward in West Virginia, having been introduced for the first time in 2021 before the session ended without so much as a hearing. Hawaii in 2020 very nearly became the 15th New Voices state, when three House committees, the full House and a Senate committee approved the bill before it had to be tabled as a direct result of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic.

As of February 9, New Voices bills are on the docket in nine states. This includes Florida, which has not had a New Voices bill in several years, and Illinois, where the legislature is considering strengthening the New Voices law to protect teachers and ensure student journalists can robustly enforce the law.

Hawaii’s Senate bill was approved by the Senate Education committee on Friday, February 11. The House bill will still need to be heard by the committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs. West Virginia’s bill next needs to be heard by the Judiciary committee.