Opinion
Law & Courts Opinion

A Student Journalist’s Plea: Stop Censoring Us (and Our Advisers)

Worrying about getting punished shouldn’t be part of the endeavor
By Serena Liu — March 09, 2023 4 min read
Image of a speech bubble behind yellow tape, a censorship concept
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the spring of 2017, Amy Robertson arrived at Pittsburg High School in Kansas to take on her new role as principal. However, a few months into the semester, her story began falling apart. Just days after her lies came to light, Robertson resigned.

In 2021, English teacher Joseph Canzoneri’s sexual misconduct was exposed, and he was removed from his position at Townsend Harris High School in New York. Just last year, a teacher at Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon, Calif., was fired because of his racist comments toward Black and Latino students.

What connects these scandals? They were all uncovered by teenagers like me—high school student journalists who did what adults did not by properly investigating the history and credentials of school staff put in positions of power. The job of student journalists is to compile and publish information on issues pertinent to our audience of peers, teachers, administrators, and more. But even though we have proved that we are capable of reporting on wrongdoing and creating change through our stories, journalism classes are under attack, and our journalism teachers are often restricted from doing their jobs fully.

Nationwide, journalism advisers are punished again and again just for supporting their students’ education. At a Los Angeles high school, a principal put seasoned journalism adviser Adriana Chavira on unpaid suspension after, in support of her students’ journalism, she refused to remove the name of an unvaccinated school librarian from the story in a student newspaper. Another school fired their journalism advisers after a student wrote a pro-choice opinion piece, and the advisers allowed it to be published.

Our journalism advisers need the freedom to teach students the full scope of journalism without fear of being limited or losing their jobs. Journalism gives students unique opportunities to learn how to investigate and cover important issues, serving as an irreplaceable method of civic education and engagement. By teaching students how to critically sift through sources and produce high-quality articles, journalism shows students how to determine the credibility of and navigate a variety of sources and complex issues, something that many young people often struggle with. But when journalism advisers have to worry about whether publishing a controversial story might get them fired, it becomes risky to embolden their students to research contentious issues and policies, even when those issues can greatly impact schools or surrounding communities.

While it can be easy to brush student journalists aside, not only does our work help us grow into better-informed adults through the process of investigating relevant issues, but it also serves as an essential source of information for our audience. High school student journalists deserve the same rights as professionals for the same reasons: to uncover wrongdoings and inform the public. Who better to advocate for students’ education and school environments than students themselves?

See Also

BRIC ARCHIVE
iStockphoto
Law & Courts Opinion Don't Silence Young Journalists
Frank D. Lomonte, February 17, 2015
6 min read

If schools truly want their students to have the critical-thinking skills needed to advocate for themselves and thrive in a modern world, we must protect the teachers who help develop student voices. Despite the importance of student journalists, our rights have been denied at a federal level. Although the Supreme Court decided that students had First Amendment rights at school in the landmark Tinker v. Des Moines, their 1988 decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier classified school-sponsored newspapers as limited classroom publications rather than true public forums. This meant that school officials could review and censor their students’ articles before publication. Thus, the Supreme Court condoned the censorship of student journalism across the nation.

However, at a state level, grassroots movements are campaigning for the rights of student journalists and our teachers through model legislation called New Voices. These bills would protect student journalism advisers from administrator retaliation for refusing to infringe on their students’ free speech. Though New Voices laws have been passed in 16 states, many other states lag behind. So far, New Voices has been introduced for the 2023 legislative session in Missouri, Connecticut, New York, and West Virginia to fight the legacy left by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.

Despite living just 30 minutes from Hazelwood East High School, where the case began, I’m lucky to write for an uncensored student-run newspaper. Student journalists at my school are encouraged to cover issues that matter to us, even if they are controversial. That means that sometimes my peers, our adviser, and I find ourselves on the receiving end of angry comments from students, administrators, and parents.

But our school newspaper is more than just a way for us to express our ideas; it serves as a safe place where anyone can share their opinion and function as a platform for respectful discourse among students.

Journalism classes and journalism advisers are invaluable to schools. Urging legislators to support New Voices bills is just one of the many ways we can ensure that teachers are not punished for doing their jobs. I encourage education advocates to support these bills and other ways to advance student journalism in our efforts to have a democratized society.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Biden's Title IX Rule Is Now Blocked in 14 States
A judge in Kansas issued the third injunction against the Biden administration's rule granting protections to LGBTQ+ students.
4 min read
Kansas high school students, family members and advocates rally for transgender rights, Jan. 31, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. On Tuesday, July 2, a federal judge in Kansas blocked a federal rule expanding anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ students from being enforced in four states, including Kansas and a patchwork of places elsewhere across the nation.
Kansas high school students, family members and advocates rally for transgender rights, Jan. 31, 2024, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. On Tuesday, July 2, a federal judge in Kansas blocked a federal rule expanding anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ students from being enforced in four states, including Kansas, and a patchwork of places elsewhere across the nation.
John Hanna/AP
Law & Courts Student Says Snapchat Enabled Teacher's Abuse. Supreme Court Won't Hear His Case
The high court, over a dissent by two justices, decline to review the scope of Section 230 liability protection for social media platforms.
4 min read
The United States Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2024.
The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, D.C., on July 1, 2024. The high court declined on July 2 to take up a case about whether Snapchat could be held partially liable for a teacher's sexual abuse of a student.
Aashish Kiphayet/NurPhoto via AP
Law & Courts What the Supreme Court's Chevron Decision Could Mean for Biden's Title IX Rule
The decision overrules a 40-year-old precedent and could impact lawsuits challenging the final Title IX rule.
5 min read
Visitors pose for photographs at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2024, in Washington.
Visitors pose for photographs at the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2024, in Washington. The high court on June 28 overruled a longtime precedent and held that courts, not federal agencies, have the primary authority to interpret ambiguous federal statutes.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Law & Courts Religious Charter School Is Unconstitutional, Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules
The state high court says the planned Catholic virtual charter school violates a state provision against aid to 'sectarian' institutions.
4 min read
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is pictured in the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City, May 19, 2014. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, June 25, 2024, that the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, is unconstitutional.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is pictured in the state Capitol building in Oklahoma City, May 19, 2014. The high court ruled Tuesday, June 25, 2024, that the approval of the nation's first state-funded Catholic charter school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual Charter School, is unconstitutional.
Sue Ogrocki/AP