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Michigan in Works to Pass Bill Protecting Student Journalists

Anthony Cardamone, Editor

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Students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike frequently underestimate and overlook student journalism and its importance. It allows our future leaders and journalists to craft and develop their voices at a young age.

“They learn about good writing and thorough research. They practice how to communicate complex information in ways that young audiences can understand. Perhaps most importantly, they learn about core constitutional values and the importance of being informed about and involved in their communities,” Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) executive director Jeremy Steele said.

However, student journalism ranging from health risks of students, arrests of students, teachers, or administrators, school mileage elections, and other topics have been subject to censorship, a clear violation of the 1st amendment of the United States constitution. During the 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the court ruled school administrators can censor, restrain or publish school-sponsored student expression if there is “reasonable educational justification.”

A bill introduced by Michigan State Senator Rick Jones, known as the Student Free Free and Civil Readiness Act, would prohibit public school officials from imposing censorship on a school-sponsored publication, unless the content is obscene, defamatory, constitutes advertising for a product illegal for minors, or represents a clear and present danger of an unlawful act or a school disruption (all of which are rare). The bill would also prohibit disciplining a faculty advisor for refusing to censor, and provide civil immunity to school officials for any expression made by a student in the publication. Finally, it would define college and high school “student journalists,” and what they are authorized to do, along with an assertion that they retain the right to free speech.

The bill was unanimously passed by the Senate judiciary committee, and will head to the Senate floor. According to State Senator Steve Bieda, the Senate majority leader has not yet scheduled a hearing on the bill. Rick Jones, the main sponsor, said in March there would be a hearing on the bill within the next few weeks, but that never happened.

“I believe the bill will make it to the Governor’s desk,” Bieda, the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee who co-sponsored the bill, said in a recent phone interview. “The bill will be voted on by the Senate when a hearing is scheduled, and if it passes, it will then be sent to the House of Representatives.” 

North Dakota unanimously passed a similar law in 2015, with every member of state legislature voting in favor of the bill. That may also happen in Michigan, as this bill is nonpartisan and has the support of members from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The Student Free Press and Civil Readiness Act is a part of the “New Voices USA” movement, “a student-powered grassroots movement to give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern,” according to their website. They have lobbied for student journalism rights across the country, where 10 states have passed laws and 18 other states are in the process of passing a law.

“Two things students can do make sure this bill is enacted is contacting their State Representative and Senator, either by email or a hand-written letter, and write a letter to editors [of local newspapers] to get newspaper coverage,” Bieda said.

 

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Michigan in Works to Pass Bill Protecting Student Journalists