Student’s Guide to Back to School 2021

Nobody is sure what the school year may bring. More lockdowns and school closures? Maybe. Censorship? Almost definitely. SPLC is with you through another unpredictable year.

Bookmark this page, sign up for our newsletter and explore our resources. Then, talk to your adviser about bringing an SPLC expert to teach your class or newsroom about media law. We built these tools to explain the law in a way that’s easy to understand and gets straight to the point: what do you need to know? What should you do or not do?

When you find yourself in the middle of a complicated situation, or when you have any media law questions, contact SPLC’s free legal hotline — we answer every call.

About us: Since 1974, SPLC has been providing information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them. SPLC is an independent nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

Get help:

SPLC’s Free Legal Hotline

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Get involved:

Student Press Freedom Advocacy

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Trending Topics:

What do I do if my administration refused to give COVID-19 information because of FERPA?

Many times administrators cite FERPA as a reason to restrict access to information which the public is entitled to receive. Unfortunately, during the pandemic we’ve seen many administrators misapply the privacy law to try and block information about COVID.

SPLC developed a letter for you to download and send (or give) to administrators when they misapply FERPA to prevent you from obtain information to which you have lawful access. 

And remember, you can always get direct help through SPLC’s legal hotline.

What is the B.L. v. Mahanoy Supreme Court case, and how will it affect me?

B.L. v. Mahanoy is a free expression case the Supreme Court decided in June 2021. The case has major implications for public school students across the country. Read SPLC’s 5-minute guide to the case to learn the facts of the case, how the Court ruled and the implications for student journalists.

My student media organization is struggling financially, is there anything we can do?

If your student newsroom is facing budget cuts, loss of ad revenue, transitioning away from print or you just want to educate yourself, SPLC has a collection of resources for you. While some of the resources target either high school or college, the strategies and guidance can be easily translated for any kind of student media.

Does HIPAA limit my ability to report on COVID-19 cases?

No. While HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) may limit the information a medical provider can provide about specific, identifiable patients, its restrictions only apply to those who have a “duty of care” to a patient. Journalists have no such duty of care. Where you lawfully obtain information (iie. you’re not trespassing or aiding/encouraging others to do so) HIPAA cannot be used as an excuse to limit your reporting, though, of course normal invasion of privacy rules still apply. It’s also important to note that HIPAA does not restrict government or medical officials from providing purely statistical information about the number of cases, tests, deaths, etc., attributed to the virus as long as it contains no information that personally identifies someone.

See more legal FAQs related to covering the coronavirus.

Where can I find more COVID resources for student journalists?

In SPLC’s COVID Toolkit, you’ll find answers to the top legal questions we’ve gotten around COVID, a letter explaining how student journalism fits the legal definition of an “essential service,” a guide for covering the pandemic, examples of great student coverage and more.

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The number one thing to understand about your adviser

Your adviser is there to support you, but when it comes right down to it, they are also a school employee. That means that if censorship occurs, they are limited in their ability to fight for you. Doing so could cost them their job.

Courts have made clear that it is students’ legal rights — not the adviser’s — that are at stake. The bottom line is that you must be willing to stand up to protect your own free speech rights. Your adviser being fired for insubordination does no one any good.

Fighting censorship can seem intimidating, but you aren’t alone! We have your back. Contact SPLC’s hotline for help.

Test your student media law knowledge

How well do you know the First Amendment? What about internet law? Copyright? Take our newly updated quizzes and find out.

Bring SPLC into your classroom or newsroom

Let us come and meet you in your newsroom via Zoom. An SPLC expert will join you for up to 40 minutes and can present on topics like high school student press freedom, public records, covering COVID or an open Q&A on the subject of your choice.

Subscribe to SPLC’s newsletters

Want the latest news about student press freedom, excellent examples of student journalism and tips for your own newsroom? Sign up for SPLC’s Weekly Newsletter.

Looking to get more involved in the New Voices movement? Our monthly New Voices Newsletter is full of tips for effective advocacy. 

Join the student media community

Whether you’re just starting your work as a student journalist or have been doing this for years, we’re so glad you’ve chosen to pursue journalism this year. Check out these impressive examples of student reporting to get inspired (and maybe get some story ideas.)

21 Incredible Student Stories

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COVID Yearbook Spreads

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SPLC’s Past Award Winners

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And don’t forget the National High School Journalism Convention in Philadelphia, hosted by our friends at the Journalism Educators Association and National Scholastic Press Association, and National College Media Convention in New Orleans, hosted by the Associated Collegiate Press and College Media Association, are great ways to connect with your peers and learn new skills.

More resources

Explore SPLC’s website or contact our legal hotline for answers to all of your media law questions.