The Echoes

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Maybe next year…

Bill protecting student free speech fails to get out of committee

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In many cases, a violation of the 1st Amendment is a serious offense. However, for school journalists, it is a frequent issue. This hasn’t always been the case though, as student journalism has been the topic of a Nebraska senate hearing.

Recently, Senator Adam Morfeld from Lincoln has attempted to create a bill that would effectively take away administration’s ability to monitor and preview these stories before they are published, giving student journalists the ability to publish stories without fear of having them rejected.

The bill itself is named LB886, or the Student Journalism Protection Act. It has been presented to the senate with the goal of being passed and going into effect.

The bill doesn’t give students total freedom, as it does not affect stories that are libelous, slanderous, invades privacy, or that violate state law.

The bill was recently turned down, and will not be reconsidered until next year. However, the bill’s presence has brought student journalism under the spotlight yet again. This isn’t the first time student expression has been challenged.

The first modern time this issue has gained national attention. During the Vietnam War, the Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines, ruled that schools should not interfere with students’ freedom of expression.

However, later in 1988, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier occurred, which declared that student journalists working with school resources were not protected under the first amendment.

As a result, whenever a school journalist wants to write a story, they first have to run it by administration. If they disprove of the story, they have the ability to reject it from being published.. Stories will often get rejected if they contain content that is considered offensive or controversial, and they may be turned down to be rewritten.

Although it would be good for student journalists, taking away the ability for administration to preview stories would cause some problems. If a story is rejected, the administration has a method of returning it to the journalism department and changing it.

According to Mr. Halley,

“We contact Mr. Pitkin and sometimes we talk with the students, and say ‘you know what, this is a very controversial topic, these changes need to be made,’ and the students will revise the article so they are still keeping the topic they want to talk about.”

Administrators want to preview and approve of these stories due to worries of publishing a story that may be offensive or slanderous to some students, stories that contain sensitive topics, or stories that damage the school’s reputation.

Student journalists in support of the bill have voiced their opinions of the topic. One of those students is Faith Reisig, the editor of the Echoes. With years of journalistic experience, she has opinions on the administration’s ability to monitor and reject stories.

“I can certainly understand why they want to, because I think our administration does a very good job of giving students the information that they need and protecting our publication from making some errors.”

Even though the bill has been rejected, supporters of it are looking hopefully to 2019, when the bill will hopefully be proposed again. Until then, student journalism will remain the same as it has been, although the bill has certainly brought attention to the rights and freedoms of student journalists.

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The student news site of Scottsbluff High School
Maybe next year…