Law sets rights for student journalists
By David Steves
SALEM – Oregon student journalists were assured some of the nation’s strongest press freedoms Friday when Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed into law a bill that limits school administrators’ censorship powers.
Kulongoski praised the new law, which took immediate effect, for making Oregon the first state to establish First Amendment rights for students at public high schools, colleges and universities.
Angela Thomas, deputy director of a national First Amendment institute called J-Ideas, was on hand to witness the bill’s signing into law. She said Oregon’s law – the first of its kind adopted by a state Legislature since 1996, and the seventh in the country addressing student journalists – could serve as a model to other states where such efforts have fallen short of late.
The stumbling block in other states – and in the Oregon Legislature when previous attempts to establish student media protections in the law – has been wariness from school administrators who have convinced lawmakers that student-run media will abuse their First Amendment rights with inappropriate language or unsubstantiated information.
In an age of MySpace and Facebook social networking Web sites, Thomas said students already are unrestrained in their ability to put out words and images for the rest of the world. That makes it more important than ever that educators give them first-hand experience, in a structured learning environment, with the rights and responsibilities of free expression.
Century High School senior Sarah Allen was among the student journalists who advocated for the bill’s passage as a way to ensure that those on school newspapers or other communication projects don’t learn about press freedoms only as something for adults.
“You can’t expect student journalists to fully appreciate the First Amendment without fully experiencing it, just like professional journalists,” said Allen, whose school is in Hillsboro.
The new law, passed as House Bill 3279, establishes the right of public high school and college student journalists to exercise free speech and press rights in school-sponsored media. Students would determine the content of such media unless it is libelous or slanderous; constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; or might create a “clear and present danger” of unlawful acts, school policy violations or the disruption of orderly school operations.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Larry Galizio, D-Tigard, who’d learned of a similar proposal, which ultimately failed, in Washington. Galizio said the new law’s free-expression protections were especially important in the wake of a recent court decision. The 7th U.S. Court in the Midwest ruled two years ago that colleges and universities couldcensor school-sponsored student media.
That decision expanded on a 1988 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that high school authorities held this privilege of prior restraint and prior review of student publications.
Sen. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, sponsored a bill in 2001 similar to HB 3279, which she also backed. Her earlier effort came in the wake of a case in Brookings. Brookings-Harbor High School student journalists refused to publish their paper after administrators ordered them not to report on an incident involving a student who had left a shotgun in his vehicle.
Tim Gleason, dean of the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon, said the new law would provide important protections at the high school level. He said its effect on college and university campuses was less clear.
Many college student publications are independent from the campus they serve and therefore were never subject to administrators’ prior restraint or prior review. That’s the case of the Oregon Daily Emerald, which serves the UO campus.
Gleason said there also were questions about whether some exceptions in the new law might lead to unwarranted college administrators’ restrictions of student media rights.
For example, he raised the possibility of an overly broad interpretation of the law to limit a student publication because a college administration decides its content would disrupt orderly school operations.
It was a not-much-noticed accomplishment of the 2007 Oregon Legislature – but a significant one for civil liberties for young people.
The nation’s first law to help protect Oregon high school and college journalists from censorship by school administrations will be signed Friday by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.The Oregon law makes student journalists responsible for determining the content of school-sponsored media, and gives them the right to sue schools if they feel free-press rights have been violated.
It is the country’s first law in more than a decade to protect high school journalists, and the first ever to cover both high school and college journalists under one statute, said Warren Watson, director of J-Ideas, a First Amendment institute at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.
“This is really a landmark for student journalism,” Watson said.
The bill was sponsored and promoted by Rep. Larry Galizio (D-Tigard), who has taught college journalism at Portland Community College.
Why was the bill needed? Because of a growing crackdown on student media across the country.
Attorney Mike Hiestand, a legal consultant for the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va., said the free-speech rights of college journalists had not been seriously challenged until 2005.That year, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an Illinois case, Hosty v. Carter, that college administrators could impose prior review and restraint on student papers if the publication is not a designated public forum for student expression.
Hiestand said school administrators have since cited the ruling in instituting tighter control over college and high school student publications. Free-speech advocates say the Oregon bill’s passage was a victory.
“At a time when so much student expression is being diminished, it is heartening to know that Oregon, consistent with its rich free-speech tradition, is at least doing something to stem the tide of censorship of student expression,” said Ronald Collins, a scholar for the Nashville-based First Amendment Center.
July 12, 2007
Text of Oregon secondary school law: http://nwscholasticpress.org/2013/06/07/oregon-student-free-expression-law-public-secondary-schools/
Know The Oregon Law: http://nwscholasticpress.org/state-law/
Text of public college and university law: http://nwscholasticpress.org/2013/06/07/oregon-student-free-expression-law-public-college-and-universities/
Oregon case study: http://nwscholasticpress.org/2012/10/25/the-splc-news-story-oregon-high-school-students-ask-school-to-return-confiscated-papers/
NWSP’s advice in a letter to the Bronco Blaze staff: http://nwscholasticpress.org/2012/11/10/nov-10-2012-letter-to-bronco-blaze-staff/
J.D. McIntire testimony: http://nwscholasticpress.org/2012/03/23/sandy-hs-adviser-named-oregon-journalism-teacher-of-the-year-2012-2/
National Coverage stories: http://nwscholasticpress.org/national-coverage/
Oregon coverage stories: http://nwscholasticpress.org/oregon-coverage/
SPLC story: http://www.splc.org/article/2007/04/oregon-committee-debates-merits-of-student-press-freedom-bill?id=1490