Student journalists in Vermont got one step closer to having their constitutionally protected right to free speech protected last week when Senate Bill 18 passed the Vermont Senate last week.
It seems odd that such a bill should be required – after all, the Constitution puts no age requirements on when free speech is protected.
Senate Bill 18 came about in part because student journalists at the Burlington High School Register were censored last fall when they attempted to report about a sign held by a student from another school. The sign alleged derogatory things about Burlington High School football players.
Student journalists reported it and found their work edited so that they couldn’t report the words on the sign and also could not print a picture of the sign. And that’s not right.
The co-editors of the Register testified before the Vermont Senate last month about being censored by the school administration. The bill is aimed at preventing censorship by the school administration or school board and to protect student newspaper advisers.
While school administrators are charged with overseeing the school and its best interests and while they can control their own message, they cannot legally control the message of their student newspapers and their student journalists.
It sends the wrong message and is definitely the wrong lesson when educational administrators attempt to censor free speech. It sends kids the wrong message when their ability to exercise their free speech rights is impeded by administrators who want to manage the message. The sign that sparked this was held in public where parents, community members, other non-high school reporters, students, etc. could see it.
The Senate bill moves on to the House Committee on Education next month. Here’s hoping it passes. Free speech and the freedom of journalists to do their jobs are under enough of an assault nationally for this issue to raise its head locally.