By Katie Stancombe
INDIANAPOLIS – Language from a bill that would have protected the rights of student journalists has been inserted into another education bill working its way through the Statehouse.
Previously known as House Bill 1130, the protections for students journalists bill would have prohibited public schools and school corporations from disciplining student journalists for exercising freedom of speech and press in school-sponsored media.
But the Senate refused to vote on the legislation last week after receiving last minute pushback from school boards, superintendents, and the Department of Education.
Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, listen to testimony for an amendment that would include protections for student journalists in House Bill 1043, which deals with school finance issues. Photo by Katie Stancombe, TheStatehouseFile.com.
Author Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, added the language to House Bill 1043, which deals with school finance issues, in hopes of keeping the original content alive.
Changes made to the original language would require student media advisors to supervise their students as they develop policy for reviewing and making decisions about media content at the beginning of the school year.
“It would just require them to have a policy and process in place,” Clere said. “When there is some potentially difficult content, it reassures that there’s an internal process in place for reviewing that content.”
The new language would incorporate community standards, allowing student journalists to determine what that might be for their particular communities.
“It’s completely student led,” Clere said. “It’s not administrative review of content. It’s review of content by student journalists.”
Those in opposition of the bill argue that school administrators should have the final say about what content is printed in a school-sponsored publication.
Brian Smith, executive director of the Indiana School Board Association, said that while the language does have some ability to suppress content, the ISBA thinks it’s too limited.
“Currently students do have freedom of speech rights in a number of other forums, social media, flyers they want to hand out at school – we have no control over that content,” Smith said. “We feel the school administrators should be able to make a judgment that they think is appropriate.”
But those in favor argue that including community standards would make the language meaningless, allowing school administrators and others to maintain absolute control over student speech.
“I think question comes down to, who sets those community standards? And here we’re talking about students, and their voices and their publications,” said Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association.
Stephen Key is executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.
Key said he believes the new language will help students play their part in making decisions about their communities, with the help of their media advisors.
“We think it’s the student’s voice, not a public relations piece of the administration or of the principal,” he said. “I think we have a good compromise there.”
Tim McRoberts, associate director for Indiana Association of School Principals, argued that school administrators should be able to remain flexible and proactive when it comes to decision-making.
“We fear that this legislation could prevent our administrators from doing that,” McRoberts said.
He also said they don’t support the language in it’s current form, but would feel better if school administrators were included in the policy-making process alongside student media advisors and students.
The Department of Education released a statement concerning the newly added language, and said that while they do not have concerns with it, they will not advocate for the bill moving forward.
“We have shared suggestions for changes to the bill with legislators, which are not currently reflected in this bill,” said the IDOE. “The final decision rests with them.”
IDOE wanted language 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.
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.