A piece of legislation designed to protect student journalists is being introduced in Florida. If all goes to plan, student press rights will be protected before the next school year.
The New Voices movement is led by the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) with the hopes to pass statewide legislation aiming to protect student press freedom. Over the course of 44 years, 15 states have passed similar laws, with the latest being New Jersey in 2021.
“Administrators think that they can just censor [well-sourced articles] for whatever reason, whenever they feel like it,” SPLC advocacy and organizing director Hillary Davis said. “In the other states, the states that have New Voices bills, we’ve got the capacity to push back and that’s really empowered students.”
After the supreme court case Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier, which gave school administration the ability to censor articles deemed ‘inappropriate’ and ‘imprimatur,’ there have been instances of admin extending their censorship rights. CCHS is not exempt from this administration overstep.
“Censoring definitely affects senior quotes in the yearbook. A lot of students’ quotes dont [sic] get approved and they end up with no quote because the school deemed it was inappropriate, when a lot of times it’s mostly harmless,” academics editor Jocelyn Reed said. “I think it’s unfair sometimes because it is their one chance to say what they feel encompasses their high school experience and they deserve to be heard.”
A more far-reaching censorship story took place last year at West Broward High School (WBHS) another Broward County high school. When covering the various events of the 2020 school year the staff deemed including the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement an important addition. Despite no valid reason for cutting the page,WBHS’ administration felt it should not be included which led to yearbooks being late for printing.
“The Edge Yearbook editors and staff are always working hard to provide the students with the inclusion of the BLM page, we feel we did just that,” The Edge’s Instagram publication said. “As stated by one of our editors, ‘The BLM page is intended to give students a voice that is so often taken from them and allow them as it has become a fight for their lives.’
The proposed bill SB 1860 titled Freedom of Speech and the Press in the Public Education System is focused on making sure that events like these are prevented. The bill gives the student journalists and advisors power over their publications.
“Providing that student journalists have the right to exercise freedom of the press in school sponsored media,” the language of the proposed legislation states. “Requiring that determinations regarding the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media be made by student journalists.”
This proposed bill will not only protect student journalists but includes freedom of speech for students. The bill was just recently introduced on January 7 by Senator Tina Scott Polski to the Florida senate and was referred to the education, judiciary and rules committees on the 12.
“What has to happen now is that student journalists and advisors need to start contacting their senators and asking for their help in moving that piece of legislation forward,” Davis said. “It will need to have a hearing and we hope that lots of student journalists will be able and willing to tell their stories at that hearing.”
The long legislative process still has much more to be done, but the bill aims to be put into effect on July 1, 2022. Once put into effect this bill will protect student publications and allow them to cover hard-hitting stories without the fear of censorship.
“Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are fundamental rights in our democratic society,” the language of the proposed legislation states. “WHEREAS, [sic] a robust and free student press is critical to the development of young people so that they may become informed, civic-minded adults.”