Student Press Laws Need Improvement

Jaclyn Harris, Reporter

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Student press organizations are one of the leading platforms in providing students, school administrators, and parents with information regarding both day-to-day life and breaking news stories which affect the community. However, when controversial cases and sensitive topics arise, the law often fails to protect these vital media outlets from censorship.

Media law regarding high school student media has a history of controversy and court battles. Two famous court cases are what set the standards for high schools today – the 1969  Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District and the 1988 Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier case – the latter of which has had the largest impact.

The Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier case occured when a Colorado high school paper attempted to publish two editorials, one of which opposed a new plan to create mandatory study halls for underclassmen and one that agreed with the viewpoint of the administration. When the principal reviewed the editorials, he censored only the editorial that went against the administration. (Source)

The case ended up reaching the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the school district. This case severely limited the press rights of school news organizations. Under the new guidelines, schools could censor student media by allowing only one viewpoint to be expressed.

Individual states have made improvements to their individual laws in order to protect the rights of student press organizations. The states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Washington state operate under free-expression laws or regulations.

Should a censorship case reach court, there are organizations such as the Student Press Law Center,  American Civil Liberties Union and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education who are willing to provide attorneys and legal assistance free of charge. Organizations such as these are what allow student media to use the full extent of its rights without fear of backlash or debt.

While the law is flawed in its search for equal press rights, measures can be taken to ensure the smoothest-running operation in the student media classroom. Thoroughly educating young reporters on the subject of media law is essential, as well as those who are willing to take risks to provide the public with necessary information without merely spreading gossip.

The United States government, as well as the State of Texas, need to take a step back and evaluate their outdated press laws. Without this measure taken, more controversial cases are sure to occur. The world is changing and the laws and restrictions placed on student media should too.

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