January 29th marks Student Press Freedom Day– a national day celebrating the contribution of student journalists. On this day in 1988, Cathy Kuhlmeier, a high school journalist from Missouri, had her newspaper shut down by a principal who thought stories about teen pregnancy and divorce were inappropriate for a school setting. She sued the administration, and although she ultimately lost her case at the Supreme Court in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, her legacy lives on in the thousands of student publications across the country. 32 years after that fateful decision limiting the rights of student journalists, their rights and freedoms continue to remain under attack across much of the United States.
At the M-A Chronicle, we are lucky enough to have an administrator and advisor who do not interfere in editorial decisions, giving us the freedom to publish what we consider newsworthy. Over the past two years alone, we have covered lawsuits regarding the wrestling team, exposed corruption in student elections, and illustrated an endemic of fights at our school. Without the stringent protection for student journalists, it is easy to see how many conflicted parties would want to censure our publication. California is one of the lucky states; education code 48907 reversed the Hazelwood decision and allows us the same freedoms enjoyed by professional publications. Yet even in California, adults often act to suppress student voices. From a school in Stockton that had its newspaper threatened to be shut down after publishing a story about a student in the sex industry, to a student journalist advisor being fired for allowing a negative editorial to be published, it is clear that more work is needed to ensure freedom of the press. Across the nation, only 14 states have “new voice” laws, allowing student journalists full rights under the first amendment. Designed to counteract the decision in Hazelwood, they give students control over the editorial decisions in their publications
In our current environment, teenagers can often seem as troublemakers who aren’t “sufficiently mature” to make editorial decisions. Yet all across the country, student journalists stand at the foreground of the fight for youth voices. Without them, thousands of newsworthy events would go uncovered. From stories about teacher misconduct in Utah, to the improper transfer of student athletes in Arkansas, students have exposed corruption and malfeasance that would have otherwise gone uncovered. When we attempt to censor student reporters, we do a disservice to the community at large.
Today we call for all states to adopt “new voice” laws because student journalists deserve the same protection as their adult counterparts. Although they are not always the ones exposing corruption at its highest levels, student reporters play an important role in our news cycle. From training the next generation of reporters, to helping students find their own voice, high school and college newspapers serve a crucial role in the lives of many youth. Without “new voice” laws we prevent hearing the authentic voices of youth, as overbearing administrations and teachers can censor material they consider “inappropriate” for school. Only with the freedom to print what they deem newsworthy can student journalists accurately report on issues affecting them.
Ultimately, Student Press Freedom Day honors student journalists around the country who have persevered through adversity to fight for the truth. We hope you will join us in advocating for the rights of student journalists across America.