Recently, a bill was proposed in the Indiana House of Representatives that could have had a negative impact on the working relationship between principals, school boards, educators and students. The proposed legislation would have removed the ability of the administration to stop edgy content from being printed in student newspapers across local high schools. While freedom of speech is a right, students need a model to look at as they learn about journalism. Professional journalists often begin their career in high school, then go to college to learn more before heading into the field. It is necessary for students to first learn about and then hone skills required of responsible journalists like source confidentiality, writing style, attribution and much more before their work is published without editorial oversight.
Our young students go to school and look to teachers and principals for guidance. In science class, the teacher doesn’t just hand over beakers and chemicals and walk away. By taking away a principal’s oversight, formative journalists with no experience have a greater chance of spreading misinformation. Administrators often have experience in this field and give explanations as to why a particular story might cause problems. With this, students are given a model of professionalism to follow. This legislation would have removed that. It is the responsibility of the administration to set the example and be leaders for their students.
During the legislative session, we heard from state representatives who have many years of experience as school administrators. They explained that school officials need to be able to act preemptively to prevent incidents between students. For example, if a principal is unable to stop a story that might cause a conflict between students, they lose their ability to keep order in their school.
In 1988, the case of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. In this case, the legal precedent was set that student newspapers are limited public forums for expression and therefore, authorizes school administrators to use prior restraint. This legislation in Indiana would have sidestepped that precedent, which has been standard for 30 years.
Currently, there is a process to override a principal’s decision if students believe that the decision was made in error and the story should be allowed to run. However, this legislation would have made it so the principal would not be able to stop a story from running unless they could prove it was disruptive. The bill was unclear on how a principle could prove this. Would the principal have to take the situation to court? For this part of the bill, there were too many questions on who declares what is libelous or slanderous.
In today’s world, one line, sentence or misstep can result in negativity spreading through a community. That is very clear from situations that have arisen through social media and bullying. In school sponsored media, the legal precedent and cultural precedent has been set, for good reason, that the administration should be a role model and give their students guidance for the years to come. For questions or input on other proposals that could soon be law, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 317-232-9651.
State Rep. Bob Cherry (R-Greenfield) represents House District 53,
Which includes portions of Hancock and Madison counties.
A high-resolution photo of Cherry can be downloaded by clicking here.