Key Points • Steve Key
Myths fuel defeat of student free press bill
A little journalism in the hands of a teenager is a dangerous thing, according to organizations representing school superintendents, principals and school boards.
The three entities were united in their strong opposition to H.B. 1016, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany. The bill would limit the current nearly total control of student publications allowed under a 30-year-old U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The bill failed with a 47-46 House vote Feb. 5. Fifty-one votes were needed for passage.
During the floor debate, Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said H.B. 1016 would incite fights and bullying and result in “mass chaos” in some schools.”
Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, said the bill would “open the door” to more than bullying.
“There is zero evidence that New Voices legislation leads to more fights and bullying — or more problems of any sort,” said Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel for the Student Press Law Center.
“New Voices creates clearer standards and boundaries that both students and school officials can identify and understand,” Hiestand said. “Indiana lawmakers missed a real opportunity to bring clarity to this issue.”
Both Cook and McNamara are school administrators. Rep. Tom Washburne, R-Darmstadt, and Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, also spoke out against the bill.
Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, spoke in favor of the bill. An attorney, Rep. Delaney has represented teachers in several student publication cases in Indiana. He pointed out how students will speak out on controversial subjects through social media if blocked by school administrators.
He said the legislature can allow the discussion to be the “Wild West” of social media or set standards for a civil journalistic discussion with adult supervision through a school publication.
“The price for school administrators would be “a little discomfort” because they might have to deal with phone calls from parents unhappy about a story.
Rep. Sheila Klinker, D-Lafayette, also spoke in favor of the student press freedom bill. She complimented the testimony of high school students during the bill’s hearing before the House Education Committee, which approved the bill, 9-2.
Last year, the House passed a similar bill authored by Rep. Clere with an 88-4 vote. Rep. Cook addressed that vote, which included a “yes” by him.
“We overlooked the potential consequences of this bill last year – luckily, the Senate squelched this bill,” Cook said. (The bill died without a vote on the Senate floor last year.)
H.B. 1016 would have merely adjusted the threshold for administrator censorship to situations where the student-created story or broadcast would materially disrupt the operation of the educational process in a high school or college. Collegiate press freedom has not been an issue.
The state universities have testified their support of Rep. Clere’s bill.)
During questioning of his testimony in the House Education of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, admitted his organization would
To combat the allegations of what H.B. 1016 would do, HSPA, the Indiana High School Press Association and Indiana Collegiate Press Association put together the following Myths and Truth about the student press freedom bill.
The myths surrounding H.B. 1016
There will be no constraints on student content, opening the door to inappropriate stories.
The Truth: The bill did not give students a blank check. School administrators would still hire the journalism-certified instructor and work with instructor and students to develop a yearly publication policy that takes into account community standards and maturity of the readers. The instructor would be required to give the administrator a heads up on any potentially controversial subjects. Administrators would retain the right of prior review before any publication or broadcast. Administrators could censor inappropriate copy that violated clear standards set out in the bill.
Administrators will be unable to block content that will spark fights between different factions in the school.
The Truth: The bill clearly gave administrators the power to block content that would “materially … disrupt the operation of the public school. We can all agree the potential for violence fits this framework.
Student content will lead to lawsuits against the school districts costing thousands of dollars to defend.
The Truth: The bill provided immunity from civil liability for any injury resulting from the student-created content. Thirteen states have passed similar language and the combined 183 years of states under this type of legislation has resulted in zero judgements/settlements against a school district based on student content.
The U.S. Supreme Court has settled this matter, giving administrators the right to regulate student publication content.
The Truth: The Supreme Court has ruled and neither the supporters or opposition to this bill disagree that administrators have the right to protect the educational process from disruption, but Indiana’s constitutional right to free speech is even stronger than the First Amendment and the legislature would only be clarifying the threshold permitting school officials to censor student content. Under H.B. 1016, students would practice journalism under adult supervision and administrators will not be able to turn a student publication into a public relations tool. Administrators could protect the school from disruption.
The current threshold has existed for 30 years and there is no evidence of administrators abusing their authority in regulating the content of student publications and broadcasts.
The Truth: The Indiana High School Press Association is frequently contacted by students or journalism advisers with samples of administrators going beyond pedagogical reasons to block student stories. And surveys show even more instances of self-censorship by students who don’t believe they will be allowed to write about certain subjects — obviously, a situation at odds with the nation and Indiana’s notion of free speech.
This bill will limit the ability of administrators to discipline a journalism adviser.
The Truth: Administrators would continue to have the same authority to discipline a journalism adviser as they always have with any teacher. Insubordination, incompetence, etc., are not protected by this bill. Allowing teachers to teach the subject of their expertise, whether it’s math, science, foreign language or journalism, should not be considered a limitation. Strong school journalism programs develop civic-minded students – a goal we all should support.
Students can express themselves freely outside the school through social media. They can create their own newspaper outside of school and distribute it themselves.
The Truth: That removes the element of education in journalism. Students can experiment with science, select books to read on their own, and individually grapple with algebraic formulas, but these subjects are better taught through the school system by trained educators. The same goes for journalism.