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Student Journalist Protections

New Voices of Maryland

Ensuring freedom of the press for student journalists.

The explosion of social media has made it more urgent than ever for students to learn the values uniquely conveyed in the newsroom: Balance, verification, accountability, ethics. Journalism is a solution for schools, and it’s time to stop treating it as a problem.

Students need protection in Maryland because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. The Hazelwood decision upset the balance between authority and individual liberty, transforming public schools into a “Constitution-free zone” where rights exist only in textbooks. Without a clarifying law on this issue, administrators rely on a patchwork of local standards that do not serve the education of students, the resources of administrators or fully protect the school system.

The Hazelwood ruling is irreconcilable with the effective teaching of civics. Study after study has documented that the only effective way for students to learn how government works is to discuss contemporary political issues – exactly the discussion that the Hazelwood ruling has bleached out of the school day.

SB 764 addresses the silence in Maryland’s law on this issue by providing a commonsense, clear policy across the state that allows student journalists to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school-sponsored media. Further, it insulates school media advisors from retaliatory discipline for the editorial content of the school-sponsored media. SB 764:

  • Affirms student publications are an educational tool on civics, engagement and first amendment freedoms.
  • Clarifies state policy, providing guidance and dispute resolution to administrators, while allowing each county to create its own guidance.
  • Protects free speech by student journalists and teachers, excluding speech that is libelous or slanderous, constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates federal or state law or incites students to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of county school board policies, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the public school. 
  • Leaves intact a school’s protection against libel suits.

Legislative status

As of March 11, 2016, SB 764 has passed without amendments from the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee.

Press Coverage

Maryland Debates on Student Press Freedoms, Washington College The Elm, March 10, 2016

Student journalists ask legislators for protections, The Daily Record, March 7, 2016

A toxic lesson of censorship, op-ed by Frank LoMonte, Baltimore Sun, March 3, 2016

Freedom of Speech, Press, Open Meetings Legislation Introduced in Maryland, Southern Maryland Newspapers, March 2, 2016

Editorial, Garrett County Gazette, March 2, 2016

Editorial, Cumberland Times-News, February 26, 2016

Editorial, Kent County Times, February 19, 2016 

Editorial, Calvert Recorder, February 19, 2016

Editorial, St. Mary’s Enterprise, February 19, 2016

Editorial, Maryland Independent, February 19, 2016

Editorial, Easton Star Democrat, February 19, 2016

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