Bill to protect student journalists officially dies

By Katie Stancombe
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Student journalists have no chance of gaining stronger First Amendment rights now that a bill that would have protected them is dead.

A student journalists protections bill, previously known as House Bill 1130, would have prohibited public schools and school corporations from punishing student journalists for exercising their freedom of speech and press rights in school-sponsored media. 

But strong pushback from school administrators and the Indiana Department of Education eventually killed the bill.

Author Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, had added the language to another education bill in hopes of keeping the proposed legislation alive.

File photo of Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, in 2013. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener, TheStatehouseFile.com

However, the plug was pulled Thursday when the author of House Bill 1043, Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, removed the added language for fear that his own bill wouldn’t pass.

“None of the supporters of the student journalism language wanted to see his underlying bill become collateral damage as a result of the Senate Republicans unwillingness to consider the journalism language,” Clere said.

Clere said he doesn’t know whether the bill would have passed the Senate, but said that issue has tremendous support from both sides of the aisle.

“The bill didn’t die for a lack of votes, it died because it wasn’t allowed to receive a vote,” he said.

IDOE, which opposes the legislation, said in a statement that they always work with anyone who brings an education bill to the table, and aims to provide input for what they think is best for students and schools.

The department wanted language in the original bill that gave school administrators the ability to block content that was lewd, vulgar, profane or violated community standards, but proponents maintained that would have watered down the bill.

Clere said he tried to work with IDOE to no avail.

“We have made concession after concession trying to get to a point that the administrators would accept, and nothing was enough,” he said.

Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, said there needs to be better relationships and understanding between school administrators and student journalists.

Diana Hadley is executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association

“Since Hazelwood gives them a lot of power, they’re not inclined to give that up,” she said referring to a U.S. Supreme Court case that gives public school administrators wide powers over student publications. “And obviously they don’t understand that schools that have a strong student voice are better schools. Students make schools better when they’re allowed to help analyze issues and speak to all kinds of things that everyone cares about.”

Clere said they he expects to bring the legislation back next year. He has support from Hadley, as well as Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.

Key said it’s unfortunate that school administrators have so little faith in their school media advisors and the maturity of their students.

“If Rep. Clere and other legislators are ready to fight the fight again,” Key said, “we’ll be there.”

 Katie Stancombe is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

 Editor’s note: TheStatehouseFile.com is a publication of the Pulliam School of Journalism at Franklin College. The Indiana High School Press Association, which lobbied in support for House Bill 1130, is headquartered at Franklin College.

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