A Guide to Washington’s New Voices Act

Signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018, the New Voices Act protects the press freedom of Washington’s public school and college student journalists and their advisers. The law says that student journalists cannot be censored by school officials, except in certain very narrow circumstances, and that advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to infringe on their students’ press rights. 

This page, which was last updated in June 2021, provides information about the law and its impacts on student journalists, advisers and school officials. It is not exhaustive and should not be considered a substitute for legal advice. If you have specific questions about the law, please contact the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline.

Jump to:
About the Student Press Law Center
Executive Summary
Public School Students
College Students
Advisers
Cover Letter
Resources

About the Student Press Law Center

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) is an independent, non-partisan 501c(3) which works at the intersection of law, journalism and education to promote, support and defend the First Amendment and press freedom rights of student journalists and their advisers at the high school and college level. The SPLC uses the law to help students of all ages meaningfully participate in civic life and learn essential skills, ethics and values through the vehicle of journalism. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them. For more information, visit www.splc.org or contact our legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest

Executive Summary

Details about the law and its protections for public high school and college student journalists and advisers are enclosed within. To summarize, the law says: 

  • Student editors determine the news, opinion, feature and advertising content of school- sponsored media. 
  • School officials can restrict school-sponsored media that 
    • is libelous or slanderous; 
    • constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; 
    • violates federal or state laws, rules, or regulations (high schools only); 
    • violates school district policy or procedure related to harassment, intimidation, bullying or discrimination, (high schools only); 
    • incites students so as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises, the violation of lawful school district policy or procedure, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern); or
    • Violates the federal Communications Act or applicable Federal Communications Commission rules or regulations. 
  • School districts that have a high school must have a written student freedom of expression policy, which cannot be stricter than this law. 
  • Colleges and universities cannot engage in mandatory prior review of school-sponsored media. 
  • If school-sponsored media is restricted, students may go to court to appeal or stop the censorship. 
  • Advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to censor, interfere with or overrule student decisions relating to lawful school-sponsored media. 
  • Expression made by students in school-sponsored media is not necessarily an expression of school policy, and neither a school official nor the governing board of a college or university may be held responsible for what is in school-sponsored media with which they have not interfered.

Public School Students

RCWA 28.600.027

Summary

The New Voices Act protects the press freedom of Washington’s public school student journalists. The law says that student journalists cannot be censored by school officials, except in certain very narrow circumstances, and that advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to infringe on their students’ press rights.

School-sponsored media

The law protects from censorship anything that is “prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast by student journalists, that is distributed or generally made available, either free of charge or for a fee, to members of the student body, and that is prepared under the direction of a student media adviser.” This includes newspapers, yearbooks, broadcast channels, audio or video programs, literary magazines, and other forms of media that may evolve in the future.

School-sponsored media does not include projects you do just for class, your personal social media, or anything you distribute to the student body on your own time without an adviser involved.

Media content

Student editors are responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. While your adviser may make suggestions and offer their opinions, you make the final decision about what is, and what is not, included. This also means that you are responsible for the final product, including any praise, criticisms, or (in very rare circumstances) any potential lawsuits.

Censorship

Censorship can take many forms, but in general it is any action that is meant to stop, dissuade, or discourage you from producing or distributing student media. Sometimes it is overt (“you may not publish this”) but sometimes there are more subtle forms of censorship. This can include, but is not limited to, strong suggestions that a story be withheld or changed, “reviewing” a student piece until the publication deadline has passed, threats to change your grades unless some aspect of a piece is changed, outright or suggested cuts to your student media program’s funding following a controversial piece, reassignment of your adviser, or the disappearance/destruction of student media once you have distributed it. If you believe you have experienced or are at risk of censorship, contact the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline immediately at splc.org/legalrequest/.

Unprotected speech

The law does allow for school officials to restrict some student media, just as you can be penalized for saying certain things in class. 

School officials may only prohibit student media that:

  • Is libelous or slanderous;
  • Is an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  • Violates federal or state laws, rules, or regulations;
  • Incites students to violate federal or state laws, rules, or regulations;
  • Violates school district policy or procedure related to harassment, intimidation, or bullying pursuant to RCW 28A.300.285 or the prohibition on discrimination pursuant to RCW 28A.642.010;
  • Incites students so as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises, the violation of lawful school district policy or procedure, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern); or
  • Violates the federal Communications Act or applicable Federal Communications Commission rules or regulations.

If content in your media does not fall into one of these categories, school officials – including your principal or your adviser – cannot stop you from producing or distributing it. They also cannot penalize you or your student media adviser for your decision to produce or distribute the media.

Following sound journalism practices and ethics will help ensure your work does not meet any of these criteria. If you are concerned that your work falls into one of these categories, you should talk with your adviser, the Student Press Law Center, or other legal counsel. You can do this at any point in the research, production or distribution process.

School policy

Each school district that includes a high school is required to have a written student freedom of expression policy. This policy may include “reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of student expression.” It cannot restrict your speech further than this law allows. A policy can be helpful in making sure everyone has the same understanding and expectation of the student media program. These policies are a public record. If your district does not have such a policy or it does not match what is described in this brochure, they may be inadvertently violating the law and you should contact the Student Press Law Center.

If you’ve been censored

If you are a high school student and believe your work has been illegally silenced, you are entitled by law to file an appeal against the responsible school official or the school board with the superior court of your county. You must do so within thirty days of the school official’s decision to prohibit your work or failure to respond to your efforts to move the work forward. Whenever possible, write down the dates, times and description of events as they happen to help establish this timeline.

You may also be able to resolve this without going to court, or to push back against censorship if you are not in high school. Contact the SPLC’s legal helpline at splc.org/legalrequest/ for more information.

FAQs

Isn’t freedom of the press protected by the First Amendment?

Yes, but the U.S. Supreme Court has given public schools some authority to restrict the activities of students. A U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District allows school officials to restrict student speech in certain narrow circumstances (including if it would cause a “material disruption” in the school community or could be libelous or slanderous). Another Supreme Court decision known as Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier allowed schools broader authority to censor student journalist’s speech. As a result, many school districts have censored students for reasons that have nothing to do with legitimate pedagogical concerns. The New Voices Act restores key aspects of Tinker as it applies to student journalists and puts your speech back in line with the standard established by the Tinker decision.

What is libel? What is slander?

Libel is the publication of false statements of fact that seriously harm a person’s reputation. Slander is the speaking of false statements of fact that seriously harm a person’s reputation. If a statement is true, it cannot be libelous or slanderous, no matter how harmful it is to the person’s reputation. 

If my school is sued for libel because of content in our student media, who is responsible?

You. The law expressly states that your school is not responsible for any lawsuit or criminal action that arises from school-sponsored media. However, libel lawsuits against high school journalists are exceptionally rare. (In fact, when this brochure went to press, there had not been a single reported case in the U.S. finding a school district liable for work published by its student media.) As long as you are following standard journalistic practices you should not have to worry.

What is a “material and substantial disruption”?

A substantial disruption is anything that could so interfere with the school day as to make normal school activities nearly impossible. This is decided on a case-by-case basis, but could include walkouts, fights, interruptions to class, or harassment of teachers or students. This “substantial disruption” standard was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Tinker vs. Des Moines decision many years ago, so your administrators and advisers have plenty of practice applying it to student speech. Remember, the law does not prohibit you from reporting on these things, just from inciting them.

Can my adviser tell me there are problems with my article?

Your adviser may teach you English and journalism standards, and may give you feedback regarding your article including questioning if something you have written is untruthful or ensuring you are prepared for any controversy. Unless your speech falls within one of the unprotected speech categories above, however, they cannot stop you from distributing your work. 

How do I know if I’m being censored?

If nobody has expressly told you “don’t publish this,” it can be easy to tell yourself you’re not being censored or that you are overreacting. Talk with your adviser, parents and the SPLC if you suspect you are receiving any pressure to hold or edit material that does not contain unprotected speech.

Can my principal ask to review something before we distribute it?

This is called “prior review,” and while it’s not expressly prohibited by this law there is certainly no need for your principal to engage in it unless they have reason to believe you are engaging in unprotected speech. In fact, the practice of mandatory prior review by administrators has been roundly condemned by every major journalism education group in the country as the wrong way to teach young journalists. If your principal asks to review your materials before publication, ask if there is anything they are concerned about. If your principal does engage in prior review and holds your work for more than 72 hours, you should contact the SPLC’s legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest/.

What if my adviser or principal says something is unprotected and I disagree?

They should be able to tell you exactly why it is unprotected, including pointing to the specific law or rule you are violating or giving you a clear reason why they believe your work presents a material and substantial disruption. If you disagree with their decision, you should contact the SPLC’s legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest/.

I go to a private school. Am I protected?

This law does not apply to you at this time. Private schools have more ability to restrict student speech than public schools. However, you may still be able to push back against censorship at your school. Contact the SPLC’s legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest/ for more information.

College Students

RCWA 28B.10.037

Summary

The New Voices Act protects the press freedom of Washington’s college student journalists. The law says that student journalists cannot be censored by school officials, except in certain very narrow circumstances, and that advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to infringe upon their students’ press rights.

School-sponsored media

The law protects from censorship anything that is “prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast by student journalists, that is distributed or generally made available, either free of charge or for a fee, to members of the student body, and that is prepared under the direction of a student media adviser.” This includes newspapers, yearbooks, broadcast channels, literary magazines, and other forms of media that may evolve in the future.

School-sponsored media does not cover projects you do just for class, your personal social media, or anything you distribute to the student body on your own time without an adviser involved.

Media content

Student editors of school-sponsored media are responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. While your adviser may make suggestions and offer their opinions, you make the final decision about what is, and is not, included. This also means that you are responsible for the final product, including any praise, criticisms, or (in very rare circumstances) lawsuits.

Censorship

Censorship can take many forms, but in general it is any action that is meant to stop, dissuade, or discourage you from producing or distributing student media. Sometimes it is overt (“you may not publish this”) but sometimes there are more subtle forms of censorship. This can include, but is not limited to, strong suggestions that a story be withheld or changed, “reviewing” a student piece until the publication deadline has passed, threats to change your grades unless some aspect of a piece is changed, outright or suggested cuts to your student media program’s funding following a controversial piece, reassignment of your adviser, or the disappearance/destruction of student media once you have distributed it. If you believe you have experienced or are at risk of censorship, contact the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline immediately at splc.org/legalrequest/.

Prior Review

Prior review is the review of school-sponsored media by school officials prior to the publication and/or distribution of the media. The law prohibits mandatory prior review against college student journalists. This means that your school administration cannot require you let them see your work before you release it to the student body at large.

If school officials, including your school’s public relations department, ask to review your work before it is distributed, ask if there is anything they are concerned about. You are not required to let them view it.

Unprotected speech

In general, the courts have held that college student journalists cannot be censored by school officials. However, it still happens. This law makes clear that school officials may only limit the speech of college student journalists in very specific circumstances. 

School officials may only prohibit student expression that:

  • Is libelous or slanderous;
  • Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  • Violates the federal Communications Act or any rule or regulation of the Federal Communications Commission;
  • Incites students to commit an unlawful act on school premises, violate lawful school regulation, policy or procedure, or materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern).

If your media content does not fall into one of those categories, school officials cannot stop you from producing or distributing it. They also cannot penalize you or your student media adviser for your decision to produce or distribute the media. Following sound journalism practices and ethics will help ensure your work does not meet any of these criteria. If you are concerned that your work falls into one of these categories, you should talk with your adviser, the Student Press Law Center, or other legal counsel. You can do this at any point in the research, production or distribution process.

If you’ve been censored

Any college student who is facing unlawful censorship may go to court to obtain an injunction against your school’s actions. You may be able to receive declaratory relief. The court may require the winner of the lawsuit to pay the other party’s attorney’s fees. You may also be able to resolve this without going to court. Contact a private attorney or the SPLC’s legal hotline (splc.org/legalrequest/) for more information.

FAQs

Can my adviser tell me there are problems with my article?

Your adviser can teach you English and journalism standards, and may give you feedback regarding your article including questioning if something you have written is untrue or ensuring you are prepared for any resulting controversy. They cannot stop you from moving forward with the piece.

How do I know if I’m being censored?

If nobody has expressly told you “don’t publish this,” it can be easy to tell yourself you’re not being censored or are overreacting. Talk with your adviser and the SPLC if you suspect you are receiving any pressure not to put out material that does not contain unprotected speech.

What is a “material and substantial disruption?”

A substantial disruption is anything that could so interfere with the school environment as to make normal school activities impossible. This is decided on a case-by-case basis, but could include walkouts, fights, interruptions to class, or harassment of teachers or students. The decision must be based on facts including past events at the school and student behavior, and not simply on a concern that something may happen. Remember, the law does not prohibit you from reporting on these things, just from inciting them.

If my school is sued for libel because of the content of our student media, who is responsible?

You. The law is clear that neither a school official nor the school governing board can be held civilly or criminally liable for the content of school-sponsored media. However, libel lawsuits against student journalists are very rare. As long as you are following journalistic standards and ethics, you should not encounter a problem.

Can school administration ask to review something before we distribute it?

They can ask, but they cannot require. The law states that “student media, whether school-sponsored or non-school sponsored, are not subject to mandatory prior review by school officials.” If school officials, including the public relations department, ask to review your work, ask if there is anything they are concerned about before deciding whether or not to grant permission for them to see it. This often happens when a university public relations official wants to “check in” on a story. Be aware that you are under no obligation to share your story prior to publication.

Advisers

RCWA 28.600.027 (public secondary school); RCWA 28B.10.037 (college)

Summary

The New Voices Act protects student media advisers from retaliation for refusing to infringe upon your students’ rights. A student media adviser “may not be terminated, transferred, removed, or otherwise disciplined” for complying with the law and refusing to illegally censor students.

Media content

Student editors of school-sponsored media are responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of the media. While you may make suggestions and offer opinions, you cannot sway or overrule the students’ final decisions about what is, and what is not, included in school-sponsored media. The law clarifies that you are permitted to teach “professional standards of English and journalism.”

Unprotected speech

The law does allow for school officials to restrict student media content in some narrow circumstances. 

Public secondary school officials may restrict student journalist expression that:

  • Is libelous or slanderous;
  • Is an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  • Violates federal or state laws, rules, or regulations;
  • Incites students to violate federal or state laws, rules, or regulations;
  • Violates school district policy or procedure related to harassment, intimidation, or bullying pursuant to RCW 28A.300.285 or the prohibition on discrimination pursuant to RCW 28A.642.010;
  • Incites students so as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises, the violation of lawful school district policy or procedure, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern); or
  • Violates the federal communications act or applicable federal communication commission rules or regulations.

College officials may restrict student journalist expression that:

  • Is libelous or slanderous;
  • Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  • Violates the federal communications act or any rule or regulation of the federal communications commission;
  • Incites students to commit an unlawful act on school premises, violate a lawful school regulation, policy or procedure, or materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern).

Unless the student media meets these criteria, the media cannot be restricted and you cannot be penalized for refusing to restrict it. If the student has a strong understanding of sound journalism practices and ethics, their work is unlikely to fall into any of these criteria.

Censorship and retaliation

Censorship can take many forms, but in general it is any action that is meant to stop, dissuade, or discourage a student from producing or distributing student media. This can include, but is not limited to, strong suggestions that a story be withheld or changed, “reviewing” a student piece until the publication deadline has passed, threats to change a student’s grades unless an aspect of a student media piece is changed, or the disappearance/destruction of student media once it has been distributed.

Often, advisers report that the censorship took the form of professional consequences for them instead of academic ones for the student. This has included loss of funding for the student media program, adviser reassignment, meetings or phone calls with administrators in which the administration’s dislike of a story is the main topic, or pressure from other teachers and school employees. If you believe you have experienced or are at risk of retaliation, contact the SPLC’s legal hotline immediately at splc.org/legalrequest/.

If your student has been censored or you have been retaliated against

Your students have certain legal rights which are detailed elsewhere in this brochure. If you have been retaliated against, contact the SPLC’s legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest.

FAQs

Can I suggest my students not run an article? What if my student produces something I suspect will be disruptive?

You can share your concerns with your students, but unless the work includes unprotected speech, the decision is ultimately theirs. If you believe your student is planning to distribute work which meets the criteria for unprotected speech, you should be as clear as possible with them about the concerns and the reasons why you believe their work is not protected by the New Voices Act.

What do I do if the administration tells me to edit or stop something from being distributed?

Contact the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest/.

School officials

RCWA 28.600.027 (public secondary school); RCWA 28B.10.037 (college)

Summary

The New Voices Act says that public secondary school and college, university or community college student journalists cannot be censored except in certain specific circumstances. The law also prohibits terminating or otherwise disciplining a student media adviser who refuses to infringe upon student press rights.

School-sponsored media 

The law covers any media that is “prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast by student journalists, that is distributed or generally made available, either free of charge or for a fee, to members of the student body, and that is prepared under the direction of a student media adviser.” This includes newspapers, yearbooks, broadcast channels, literary magazines, and any other form of media that may evolve in the future.

Student media does not include projects students do just for class, their personal social media (which may be protected by other laws and/or court decisions), or anything they distribute to the student body on their own time without an adviser involved.

Media content

Student editors of school-sponsored media are responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of the media. While advisers may make suggestions and offer opinions, they cannot sway the students’ final decisions about what is, and what is not, included. This also means that student journalists are responsible for the final product, including receiving any praise, criticisms or (in very rare circumstances) lawsuits.

Prior review

Prior review is the review of school-sponsored media by school officials prior to the publication and/or distribution of the media. Mandatory prior review by college officials is prohibited by law against college student journalists. College student journalists can refuse to allow school officials, including the college public relations department, to review school-sponsored media prior to publication or distribution.

While not specifically prohibited at the secondary school level, the practice of mandatory prior review by administrators has been roundly condemned by nearly every major journalism education group in the country as the wrong way to teach young journalists. Prior review should be avoided unless there are specific, articulable concerns that the school-sponsored media contains unprotected speech.

Unprotected speech

The law brings the speech rights of student journalists in line with the standard for all other student speech set forth in Tinker vs. Des Moines, and allows for the restriction of student media in certain narrow circumstances.

School officials may only prohibit public school student media that:

  • Is libelous or slanderous;
  • Is an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  • Violates federal or state laws, rules, or regulations;
  • Incites students to violate federal or state laws, rules, or regulations;
  • Violates school district policy or procedure related to harassment, intimidation, or bullying pursuant to RCW 28A.300.285 or the prohibition on discrimination pursuant to RCW 28A.642.010;
  • Incites students so as to create clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises, the violation of lawful school district policy or procedure, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern); or
  • Violates the federal Communications Act or applicable Federal Communications Commission rules or regulations.

School officials may only prohibit college student media that:

  • Is libelous or slanderous;
  • Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  • Violates the federal Communications Act or any rule or regulation of the Federal Communications Commission;
  • Incites students to commit an unlawful act on school premises, violate lawful school regulation, policy or procedure, or materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school (based on specific facts, including past events at the school and current events influencing student behavior, not just on a general concern).

Unless the school-sponsored media meets these criteria, school officials – including principals, deans, advisers, and college public relations departments – cannot prohibit student journalists from producing or distributing their work.

Material and substantial disruption

A substantial disruption is anything that could so interfere with the school day as to make school activities nearly impossible. The material and substantial disruption exemption applies only if a student journalist is inciting the disruption; reporting on a controversial topic is itself not sufficient cause for restricting student speech. These are taken on a case-by-case basis, but there must be an articulable risk of disruption, informed by specific facts, including past history at the school and current events influencing student behavior.

Whenever a risk of material and substantial disruption occurs, school officials should consider all other avenues of alleviating this disruption before resorting to censorship.

Types of censorship

Censorship can take many forms, but in general it is any action that is meant to stop, dissuade, or urge a student journalist not to produce or distribute student media. While some students have been explicitly told not to publish a particular story, others have faced more subtle forms of censorship. This can include, but is not limited to, strong suggestions that a story be withheld or changed, “reviewing” a student piece until the publication deadline has passed, threats to change a student’s grades certain aspects of a piece are changed, outright or suggested cuts to the student media program’s funding following a controversial piece, reassignment of the student media adviser, or the disappearance/destruction of student media once it has been distributed.

High school and college students who believe they have been censored in any way by school officials may take legal action, including seeking attorney’s fees, against the school or specific school officials engaging in censorship.

Adviser protection

Often, advisers report that the censorship took the form of professional consequences for them instead of academic ones for the student. This has included loss of funding for the class or club, adviser reassignment, meetings or phone calls with administrators in which the administration’s dislike of a story is the main topic, or pressure from other teachers and coaches. All of these actions are prohibited under the New Voices Act unless the school-sponsored media in question meets one of the criteria for unprotected speech.

Student media policy

Each school district that includes a public high school is required to have a written student freedom of expression policy. This policy may include “reasonable provisions for the time, place, and manner of student expression.” It cannot restrict student journalists’ speech further than this law allows. A clear policy can be helpful in making sure everyone has the same understanding and expectation of the student media program. If your district does not have such a policy, they may inadvertently be violating the law and may be subject to penalties. A model policy is available via the Student Press Law Center.

If a student believes they have been censored

High school student journalists are entitled by law to file an appeal with the superior court of their county.

College students are entitled to obtain an injunction against the restriction of school-sponsored media. They may also receive declaratory relief including payment of attorney’s fees.

FAQs

Doesn’t Hazelwood give school administrators the right to restrict student media?

States are always able to extend more protections to their residents than Supreme Court decisions hold to be required. The State of Washington has joined a growing number of other states in extending stronger protections to student journalists and providing more concrete guidance to schools than that put forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision.

What do I tell angry parents when a student writes a controversial article?

The law makes clear that expression by student journalists is not necessarily a reflection of school policy, and that student journalists alone determine the content of school-sponsored media. Parents certainly have the option of registering their opinion with the student editor.

If my school is sued for libel or slander, who is responsible?

The student journalist. However, lawsuits against student journalists are exceedingly rare.  (In fact, as of when this brochure went to press, there had not been a single officially reported case in the U.S. finding a school district liable for work published by its high school student media.) 

Journalism standards and ethics prevent libel and slander. Schools should ensure that advisers and student journalists have adequate training and appropriate resources to thoroughly educate students on media law and journalistic ethics. Students can also reach out to the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline for more guidance on libel and slander.

What if a student journalist exposes private things about another student?

Journalism standards and ethics prevent unwarranted invasions of privacy. Schools should ensure that advisers and student journalists have adequate training and appropriate resources to thoroughly educate students on media law and journalistic ethics.

If the student in question did not willingly participate in the article and you believe the student journalist has engaged in an unwarranted invasion of privacy, you may be able to prevent the student journalist from distributing the media. You should express your concerns to the adviser and/or student before resorting to censorship.

If student journalists report on rumors of a walkout, does that constitute a material and substantial disruption?

If they are simply reporting on information, no. The disruption already exists. If they are calling for a walkout and there is a history of such walkouts proving irreparably disruptive to the school, maybe. However before resorting to the censorship of a student journalist you should consider whether the same call is already reaching students through social media and whether the work by the student journalist offers school officials an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue with the student body about their concerns.

Can I talk to a student journalist about my concerns relating to their article?

You can certainly help student journalists have as many facts as possible. You cannot require, suggest or encourage a student journalist to pull a story from school-sponsored media.

How can I get more information about the New Voices Act and our rights and responsibilities?

Contact the Student Press Law Center’s legal hotline at splc.org/legalrequest.

Cover Letter

Alongside the brochure, SPLC and WJEA sent these respective cover letters to superintendents and principals across Washington state.

Superintendent

Dear Superintendent:

Enclosed is a brochure recently developed by the Student Press Law Center to help district and school officials, teachers and students know their rights and responsibilities under the state New Voices Act (RCWA 28.600.027 and RCWA 28B.10.037). We hope wide dispersal of these documents will help student journalists tell the stories that matter to their communities, and help school officials avoid inadvertently violating the law. We have sent a copy of this brochure to every superintendent of a district containing a high school, as well as digital copies to the principal of each high school. We look forward to working with you to circulate the information within this brochure, and to support student journalism.

The Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA) supports journalism teachers and advisers in the state of Washington. The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) is an independent, non-partisan 501c(3) which promotes, supports and defends the First Amendment and press freedom rights of high school and college journalists and their advisers. SPLC is not a regulatory body, but since 1974, has provided information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists, educators and school administrators. Both WJEA and SPLC worked alongside students, advisers and legislators in the creation and passage of the New Voices Act.

As you know, the New Voices Act was signed into law in 2018. The law is simple and straightforward: public high school and college journalists determine the content of student media, which cannot be removed or edited by school officials except in certain circumstances mirroring the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969). These include instances of libel or slander, unwarranted invasions of privacy, violation of laws or certain school policies, or inciting students to create a clear and present danger of disruption. Student media advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to interfere with lawful student media. And, school districts with a high school must have a written student freedom of expression policy. More information on the law, including answers to frequently asked questions, are contained within this brochure.

Student journalists play a critical role in informing and unifying the student body. While the legislature made clear that student journalists should not have to live in such fear of pressure from school officials to withhold truths that make some adults nervous, many students, advisers and school officials remain unaware or uncertain about what student journalists can and cannot put forth. Many students self-censor as a result. Others remain censored by school officials unaware of the law. We recognize the last few years have been particularly challenging for educators and students, and that a nuanced understanding of the law may have slipped through the cracks. As such, we developed these materials to help student journalists, teachers and administrators move forward in their work ensuring students become civic-minded critical thinkers ready to be our next generation of leaders. We would be happy to send you additional hard copies of this brochure upon request, and digital copies are available at www.splc.org.

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about these materials, or if there are other ways we can work together in educating students, advisers and school officials. Thank you for all you do for Washington’s students, and for your support of Washington’s student journalists. 

Sincerely,

Hillary Davis
New Voices Advocacy and Campaign Organizer
Student Press Law Center
1680 Rhode Island Ave. NW Ste. 108
Washington, DC 20036
hdavis@splc.org

Kathy Schrier
Executive Director
Washington Journalism Education Association
PO Box 24389
Seattle, WA 98124
wjeabox@gmail.com

Principal

Dear Principal:

Enclosed is a brochure recently developed by the Student Press Law Center to help district and school officials, teachers and students know their rights and responsibilities under the state New Voices Act (RCWA 28.600.027 and RCWA 28B.10.037). We hope wide dispersal of these documents will help student journalists tell the stories that matter to their communities, and help school officials avoid inadvertently violating the law. We have sent a copy of this brochure to every superintendent of a district with a high school, as well as digital copies to each high school principal. We look forward to working with you to circulate the information within this brochure, and to support student journalism.

The Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA) supports journalism teachers and advisers in the state of Washington. The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) is an independent, non-partisan 501c(3) which promotes, supports and defends the First Amendment and press freedom rights of high school and college journalists and their advisers. SPLC is not a regulatory body, but since 1974, has provided information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists, educators and school administrators. Both WJEA and SPLC worked alongside students, advisers and legislators in the creation and passage of the New Voices Act.

As you know, the New Voices Act was signed into law in 2018. The law is simple and straightforward: public high school and college journalists determine the content of student media, which cannot be removed or edited by school officials except in certain circumstances mirroring the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969). These include instances of libel or slander, unwarranted invasions of privacy, violation of laws or certain school policies, or inciting students to create a clear and present danger of disruption. Student media advisers cannot be penalized for refusing to interfere with lawful student media. And, school districts with a high school must have a written student freedom of expression policy. More information on the law, including answers to frequently asked questions, are contained within this brochure.

Student journalists play a critical role in informing and unifying the student body. While the legislature made clear that student journalists should not have to live in such fear of pressure from school officials to withhold truths that make some adults nervous, many students, advisers and school officials remain unaware or uncertain about what student journalists can and cannot put forth. Many students self-censor as a result. Others remain censored by school officials unaware of the law. We recognize the last few years have been particularly challenging for educators and students, and that a nuanced understanding of the law may have slipped through the cracks. As such, we developed these materials to help student journalists, teachers and administrators move forward in their work ensuring students become civic-minded critical thinkers ready to be our next generation of leaders. We would be happy to send you additional hard copies of this brochure upon request, and digital copies are available at www.splc.org.

We hope you will forward these materials to the appropriate student media advisers and publications. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about these materials, or if there are other ways we can work together in educating students, advisers and school officials.  Thank you for all you do for Washington’s students, and for your support of Washington’s student journalists. 

Sincerely,

Hillary Davis
New Voices Advocacy and Campaign Organizer
Student Press Law Center
1680 Rhode Island Ave. NW Ste. 108
Washington, DC 20036
hdavis@splc.org

Kathy Schrier
Executive Director
Washington Journalism Education Association
PO Box 24389
Seattle, WA 98124
wjeabox@gmail.com

Resources

For more information or assistance on the New Voices Act, student press freedom, or other issues regarding student media, please contact:

Washington Journalism Education Association
Journalism Education Association Scholastic Press Rights Committee