From student walkouts over gun violence or climate change to teacher strikes over pay and class size, student journalists are faced with tough questions when it comes to covering protests on their own campuses. No matter what kind of protest, or the issue in question, you need to know your legal rights. We can help.
Contact the Student Press Law Center with questions and check out resources we’ve compiled to help you cover events at your school and in your community.
Covering teacher strikes FAQs:
The following is meant to help answer questions for student journalists who are covering the events unfolding inside their schools.
Covering walkouts and protests FAQs:
Students around the world have staged walkouts in 2018 and 2019 to bring attention to climate change. In 2018, students in the U.S. took the lead in the conversation about gun control in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla. school shooting, and student journalists stepped up to cover these debates and protests. The Student Press Law Center was flooded with inquiries from student media, asking about their right to cover school walkouts and March for Our Lives rallies across the country. The following FAQs are meant to help answer questions for student journalists covering these school walkouts and protests. It will be updated as needed.
Student media with specific questions not answered here are encouraged to contact us at: www.splc.org/legalhelp.
Q: Can our student media organization report on protests/gatherings even though such events may advocate disruptive tactics such as walking out of class?
A: At a public school, you can certainly report on the march and what’s behind it, but remember, the rules are different for private schools.
Warning: You need to be careful not to cross the line between reporting and advocating or suggesting that students at your school take part in an activity that could significantly interfere with normal school activities … Read more
Q: Can our reporters physically cover (interview, take photos, etc.) a class walkout or similar student demonstration?
A: Presumably there are procedures already in place at your school for student reporters covering off-campus events. Follow those procedures. Treat this story as you would any other off-campus event. School officials must also treat this as any other news story. At a public school, it is generally a legal no-no for a school official to tell a reporter or photographer that they can’t cover specific topics or stories (we call that “prior-restraint”). … Read more
Q: What if we’re censored?
A: Sadly, censorship has become a common occurrence for many working on school-sponsored student media so we have a number of tried and true responses to combat it, which you can read about in our Fighting Censorship Checklist. As the checklist points out, the law is only one tool for contesting censorship. Fortunately, you have many speech tools available — used quite effectively by students and march organizers — which school officials have no or limited authority to restrict.
Q: Can students be punished for taking part in a class walkout or other demonstration that significantly interferes with school?
A: Yes. While the First Amendment does protect the rights of students to engage in speech activities, those rights are not unlimited. Part of the balance the Supreme Court struck in its 1969 landmark ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines was that while it protected the students’ right to wear armbands to school and to engage in other forms of peaceful protest, the Court said school officials could still censor two types of student speech… Read more
Warning: We have started receiving reports of schools threatening “extra” punishment for students participating in a class walkout. That won’t fly. In fact, in one of its most recent student speech cases, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that political speech by students is entitled to more — not less — First Amendment protection. We urge anyone with information about threats of extra punishment to contact us.
Q: Are you saying students shouldn’t participate in such protests?
A: Of course not. Every individual must make up his/her own mind about whether, when and how to take a stand. History — thankfully for those of us living today — is full of changemakers willing to challenge the status quo, often in the face of existing “rules” and at great personal risk … Read more
Warning: If students walk out of school or otherwise seriously disrupt school, they are subject to school punishment. It’s up to each student to decide whether that risk is worth it — or whether there is a non-disruptive alternative to a walkout that perhaps serves the same purpose. Students can be extraordinarily creative when they put their minds to it. (For example, we saw a story about an elementary school student wearing a mock bulletproof vest to school, a 2018 variation on the Tinker armband.)
Q: What are the ramifications for teachers who want to walk out of school with students during the school day?
A: As school employees, teachers should proceed cautiously. There are few legal protections available to protect school employees who leave their assigned posts without permission during the school day.
Q: I’m not a student journalist, but I am a student who would like to join my classmates participating in this march. Where can I go if I have questions or concerns?
Other SPLC tipsheets:
Background for your reporting:
- ‘Speak your truth’: In wake of Parkland, colleges tell students protests won’t hurt their chance of admission — Washington Post
- First Amendment Rights for Student Protesters: A Resource — National Coalition Against Censorship
- Questions to Ask as Schools Weigh Response to Student Walkouts — Education Writers Association
- Emails show local schools wrestling with student protests after Florida shooting — Dayton (Ohio) Daily News
- As country listens to Florida teens, Black Lives Matter youths feel ignored — Chicago Tribune column
- Let Them March: Schools Should Not Censor Students — Education Week
- How School WalkOuts Test Student Rights and School Responsibilities — National Public Radio
- Can the Parkland Survivors Inspire a New Focus on Civics Education? — Education Week
2018 coverage by high school journalists:
- The Eagle Eye, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (the site of the shooting)
- The Little Hawk, Iowa City High School, Iowa
- Youth Radio, Oakland, Calif.
- The Declaration, Colonia High School, Woodbridge, N.J.
- Central Times, Naperville (Ill.) Central High School.
- Mill Valley News, Mill Valley High School, Shawnee, Kan.
- Pioneer West Word, Wichita (Kan.) West High School
- West Linn Amplifier, West Linn (Ore.) High School
- Inklings, Crown Point (Ind.) High School.
- The Downey Legend, Downey (Calif.) High School
- LHS Today, Liberty High School, Lake St. Louis, Mo.
- The Paly Voice, Palo Alto (Calif.) High School. More coverage here.
- The Pirate Clipper, Platte County High School, Platte City, Mo.
- The Rocklin Flash Rocklin (Calif.) High School
- Ka Leo O Na Koa, Kamehameha Schools, Maui, Hawaii
- SPN, Bixby (Okla.) High School
- Northern Light, Portage (Mich.) Northern High School
- North Pointe Now, Gross Point (Mich.) North High School, which prompted coverage by The Detroit News.
- The Pearl Post, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, Lake Balboa, Calif.
- The Free Press, Lawrence (Kan.) Free State High School
- Whitney High Student Media, Whitney High School, Rocklin, Calif.
- Southwest Shadow, Southwest Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas
- The Coat of Arms, and on Instagram, Menlo School, Atherton, Calif.
- The Candle, Scappoose (Ore.) High School
- The Devils’ Advocate, Hammonton (N.J.) High School
- Global Student Square, Oakland, Calif.
- Hunter College High School, (on Instagram) New York
- The Cougar Press, Ventura (Calif.) High School
- HiLite, Carmel (Ind.) High School
- The Viking Vanguard, Puyallup (Wash.) High School
- The Broadcaster and on Instagram, Hershey (Pa.) High School
- The Highlander, Homestead High School, Mequon, Wis.
- The Campanile, Palo Alto (Calif.) High School
- Hagerty Journalism Online, Hagerty High School, Ovidedo, Fla.
- The La Salle Falconer and on Instagram, La Salle Catholic College Preparatory, Milwaukie, Ore.
- The Panther Press and video coverage, and on YouTube, Saegertown (Pa.) Jr. Sr. High School
- Cordillera News, Dakota Ridge High School, Littleton, Colo.
- Tonka News, Winnetonka High School, Kansas City, Mo.
- The Bucs’ Blade, Grand Haven High School, Grand Haven, Mich.
- HHS Media, Harrisonburg (Va.) High School
- Sequoit Media, Antioch (Ill.) Community High School
- The Adams Kilt, Rochester Adams High School. Rochester, Minn.
- Staley News, Staley High School, Kansas City, Mo.
- Mill Valley News, Mill Valley High School, Shawnee, Kan.
- The Tower, John Adams High School, South Bend, Ind.
- The Smoke Signal and here, Pascack Valley High School, Hillsdale, N.J.
- The Oracle, Gunn High School, Palo Alto, Calif.
- FHNtoday, Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles, Mo.
- The Pirateer, Englewood (Colo.) High School
- Newsbytes, West Covina (Calif.) High School. College and commercial media were not allowed on school grounds to cover the walkout.
- The Echo, St Louis Park (Minn.) High School
- The Kirkwood Call. and here Kirkwood (Mo.) High School
- Viking Ventures, Cape Henlopen High School. Lewes, Del.
- Dragon Media, and here and on Instagram, Carroll Senior High School, Southlake, Texas
- The Wessex Wire, West Essex Regional High School, North Caldwell, N.J.
- Granite Bay Today, Granite Bay High School, Granite Bay, Calif.
- Scot Scoop, Carlmont High School, Belmont, Calif. March For Our Lives section.
- The Coat of Arms, Menlo School, Atherton, Calif.
- The Shield, McCallum High School, Austin, Texas
- The Paw, Tigard (Ore.) High School
- Waldron Street Journal, Flour Bluff High School, Corpus Christi, Texas
2018 coverage by college journalists
Please send links of your coverage to firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Muhlenberg Weekly, Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania
- The State News, Michigan State University, Michigan
- The Hornet, Fullerton (Calif.) College
- The Sundial, California State University, Northridge
- The Daily Northwestern, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
- The Western Front Western Washington University, Bellingham
- Viking News, Long Beach (Calif.) Community College
- The Clarion, Citrus College, Glendora, Calif.
- PCC Courier, Pasadena (Calif.) City College
- The Michigan Daily, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
- The Brown Daily Herald, Brown University, Providence, R.I.
- The Montclarion, Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, N.J.
- The Daily Californian, University of California at Berkeley
- The Collegian, California State University, Fresno
- The Cornell Daily Sun, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
- The Northern Light, The University of Alaska, Anchorage
- The Miami Student, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio
- The Roundup News, Pierce College, Woodland Hills, Calif.
- The Heights, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
- Pipe Dream, Binghamton (N.Y.) University
- The Collegiate, Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College
- The Spectrum, University at Buffalo (N.Y.). March for Our Lives coverage.
- The Diamondback, University of Maryland, College Park
- The Daily Universe, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
- The Skyline View, Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif.
- The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
- The Flat Hat, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.
- Montana Kaimin, University of Montana, Missoula
- Daily Emerald, University of Oregon, Eugene
- The Lantern, Butler Community College, El Dorado, Kan.
- The Silhouette, Master University, Hamilton, Ontario Canada
- Setonian, Seton Hill University, Greensburg, Pa.
- Kent Wired, Kent (Ohio) State University
- El Vaquero, Glendale (Calif.) Community College,
- The George-Anne, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro
- Iowa State Daily and here, Iowa State University, Ames
- The University News, St. Louis University
- The Hofstra Chronicle, Hofstra University, Hempstead, N.Y.
- The University Star, Texas Tech University, San Marcos.
- The Blue & Gray Press, University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Va.
SPLC news release:
NEWS RELEASE: Students walk out and the Student Press Law Center steps up: new resources launched to cover walkouts and “March for Our Lives”