The Maryland Senate passed groundbreaking legislation in October that reversed the Supreme Court decision of “Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier” that “the decision of the school principal to prohibit the publishing of certain articles deemed to be inappropriate does not violate the student journalists’ First Amendment right of freedom of speech,” AKA: students are not given first amendment rights.
What is Maryland Senate Bill 764/5 (The New Voices Act)?
“FOR the purpose of authorizing certain student journalists to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in school–sponsored media; making certain student journalists responsible for determining certain content of school–sponsored media; providing for the construction of certain provisions of this Act; prohibiting a county board of education from exercising prior restraint, except under certain circumstances; specifying that the administration of a certain public school will have the burden of proving certain justification under certain circumstances; prohibiting the discipline of certain student journalists and certain media advisors under certain circumstances; requiring certain county boards and certain institutions of higher education to adopt certain policies; defining certain terms; and generally relating to the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press for student journalists in school–sponsored media.”
According to this act, a teacher has the right to ensure freedom of speech and press of their students without the threat of pay cuts, suspension, or removal from position on the administration’s behalf. Essentially, the administration does not have the right to censor student publications or punish the teacher of the class involved with any publications under the new state law.
What is wrong with HCPSS student policy 9030?
9030, the HCPSS policy regarding student publications still holds administrators accountable for deeming students’ works as appropriate or not though the new law says that right is held only by the teacher sponsor behind the publication. Some Howard County high school admins would read newspapers front to back before allowing the publications. Many times they’d pick and choose which stories or advertisements they wanted to add into the papers or remove and up until 2016, this was allowed. Additionally, the policy does not provide protection for the teacher sponsors behind student publications. There is also a strong implication that Howard County has no plans on editing 9030 since there is currently nothing stopping advocates from administrative punishment. The New Voices Act, passed officially in the Maryland Senate October 2016, specifically states: “(1) EACH COUNTY BOARD SHALL ADOPT A WRITTEN POLICY CONCERNING THE PROVISIONS OF THIS SECTION.” Failing to implement policy changes signed into law directly by governor Hogan would be illegal.
How do students feel about 9030?*
“In my opinion, it’s very important for students to be able to express themselves without censorship. If they don’t have the right to express their opinions, then they’ll learn that their opinions don’t matter and then they’ll carry on that mindset for the rest of their lives. In that way, we need to be able to express ourselves and to say what we want without fear that we will be persecuted.” -Eshna Kumar
“I believe that students should be able to write whatever they want. We do have a freedom of speech right and we should be able to use it to the best of our abilities. If a teacher is one to judge if something is appropriate or not than that could end in some problems. For many elderly people and certain adults view gay stories as inappropriate… If someone were to tell [the LGBTQ community] that their stories were inappropriate that would be taken as extremely homophobic, which could create more problems than just publishing the words. Some teachers could abuse their censorship power. For censorship, I believe it should only be used when the cursing (or other items) are effective in the story.” -Rosie Nicholson
Why does this continue?
In reality, students do not have constitutional rights until the legal age of eighteen, since minors cannot be considered legal entities. Therefore, you can be limited in speech in a way that may not follow the same guidelines as are in place outside of school. Additionally, the administrators have built a social stigma of superiority over students’ voices for 28 years, therefore making the idea of administrative censorship seem “typical” or even “mandatory for orderly conduct.”
It is important to know how the policies affect you
Demanding that HCPSS respects the new bill is demanding HCPSS to respect students’ rights. HCPSS violates students’ assumed rights through search and seizures, forced contracts, and unnecessary censorship. The county and individual high school administration’s behavior delegitimizes concerns of students repeatedly, forcing parents to defend their children instead of the student being able to stand up for themselves. As it stands, there is no ability for students to protest guidelines designated by the HCPSS student code of conduct by opting out. When a student refuses to sign the student code of conduct, the administrator steps in to sign it for them, taking out any ability for a student to protest its contents. Once free speech is truly extended to students, that’s when the rest of student rights follow. The first amendment is first for a reason—demand respect.