Current Status: California has several laws protecting student press freedom. The law protects public high school and public college student journalists from censorship, protects advisers from retaliation for refusing to infringe on their students’ free press rights, and is one of the only states to protect students in private schools. Want to strengthen student press freedom in California even further? Join the movement by emailing SPLC’s Advocacy and Organizing Team at email@example.com.
Know Your Rights
Who is protected from censorship?
All school-sponsored publications are protected at California’s public schools, public colleges and public universities. This includes newspapers, yearbooks, literary magazines, podcasts, broadcast, and more. Private school school students cannot be penalized for student expression that would be protected by the First Amendment off campus, with the exception that religious private schools can discipline students for speech not consistent with the schools religious tenets.
Public school student media advisers are protected from professional consequences for refusing to censor student media or override their students’ publication decisions.
What work can be censored?
At public schools, your work can only be restricted if it:
- Is obscene, libelous or slanderous; or
- So incites pupils as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.
What happens if I’m being censored?
Try to get any communication from your school in writing, or write down your own memory of events as they happen.Public school officials must tell students in advance their reason for censoring student media expression. You should be told before your media is restricted what is unprotected. Contact the Student Press Law Center immediately.
Join the Movement
- Know your press freedom rights and make sure others do as well. Spread the word about California’s New Voices laws on social media and in your newsroom.
- Help your colleagues better understand student press freedom by inviting an SPLC expert to join you: SPLC In The Classroom. Host a public event (SPLC will be happy to join you remotely!).
- Look up your school district’s student media or student free expression policy. (You can use this toolkit to help you find it and some examples of red flags to look out for.) If the policy seems like it endorses censorship or doesn’t match the New Voices law, let SPLC know!
- Advocate for even more student press freedom. Is the law not good enough? Talk with SPLC’s New Voices Advocacy and Organizing Team (firstname.lastname@example.org) about gaps you see in the law and how we can work to make it stronger.
Guest post: California school administrators, do better Student Press Law Center (10-26-23)