Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all United States citizens are guaranteed the right to free press, except for me, a student journalist.
Nebraska is currently a Hazelwood state, which means we abide by the decision made in the Supreme Court case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. This decision states that high school and university administrators have the right to prior review of student-produced newspapers, and the right to censor any article they find “inappropriate for the audience” or “disrupts learning.”
This decision could be reversed with the Student Journalism Protection Act, a bill being heard by the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee on Thursday. This bill will give the freedoms granted in the First Amendment, such as the freedom of press and expression, back to student journalists who currently do not have them. It will also provide protections for journalism advisers. Additionally, this bill would not protect the student journalists if they choose to print libel, put someone in danger, invade privacy or break any laws.
The powers that are granted to the school administrators from the Hazelwood decision are often abused by many administrators, because an article may show the school in a poor light.
I, as a high school journalist, have experienced this abuse of power firsthand.
Before we print our newspaper, my staff and I pitch news stories that we feel are newsworthy, discuss how they will impact the school and decide whether to write them or not. Every month our staff fears that at least one of the articles written will be censored. Some articles that have been in jeopardy of censorship have been on topics such as inclusive PE for special education students, marijuana usage, racism and sexual objectification.
With the Hazelwood ruling in place, it is not possible for student journalists to raise questions about their school or try to improve it, which makes the publication lose all integrity. My principal even told me and the editor at the time that the newspaper was just a public relations department for our school, and that our only job was to make the school look good.
When administrators decide to censor a story, the students and staff are impacted, and the staff of the publication is left with limited options. If we allow the article to be censored, nobody gets to read it, all of the work we put into the story goes to waste, and readers still don’t know the truth about what’s going on. If we change the story so the administration approves of it, it makes the article dishonest. If we choose to fight for the article to go to print, we have to fear for our journalism adviser’s job and fear for our publication. We should not have to worry about these things, just because we stood up for what was right. The truth.
The public has a right to know what is going on, and that will not happen without a change in the laws in Nebraska. That is why we should push for the Student Journalism Protection Act to be passed. After its passing, student journalists will no longer have to go through their administrators before printing anything, and we will finally be given our rights back.
Quincey Epley is a junior at North Platte High School. She is sports editor for the NPHS Bulldogger.