Student journalists bill killed, but could be resurrected

By Katie Stancombe
TheStatehouseFile.com

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.

INDIANAPOLIS – The Senate refused to vote on a bill that would protect student journalists’ free speech rights but supporters are hoping to resurrect it.

House Bill 1130 would prohibit public schools and school corporations from disciplining student journalists for exercising freedom of speech and press in school-sponsored media.

Senate sponsor Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, said he decided not to call the bill for a vote after last minute objections were voiced by the Department of Education.

“There were concerns raised apparently by the Superintendent’s Association, the School Board Association, the Principals Association and Superintendent McCormick,” Hershman said. “I was not aware of those.”

Last-minute opposition from Jennifer McCormick’s state Department of Education helped sink a press protection bill for student journalists. Photo by Eddie Drews, TheStatehouseFile.com

School administrations said they were concerned about language in the bill that would not allow them local control over what they define as the proper amount of freedom for students, said Senate President Pro Tem David Long.

Diana Hadley, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, said everyone who supports the bill was surprised by DOE’s last minute opposition to it.

“They had never mentioned that to us before today,” Hadley said. “We found out quite by accident. We’ve been working on this since September and they’ve never said a word.”

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.

But Hershman said there is still a chance for the language of the bill to be saved.

“By allowing House Bill 1130 to die, I have allowed the language in it to live for further consideration in the session ­– if the issues can be worked out among the parties,” he said.

The language could be included in another education bill working its way through the Statehouse, which means student journalists might have a second chance.

But author of the bill, Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, said the odds are against them.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule it out,” Clere said. “It’s an uphill battle at this point, because it would still have to pass the Senate. And clearly the DOE and the principals, superintendents, the school board associations, have dealt a severe blow at this point.”

Students and their media advisors argue that journalism programs free from censorship are stronger programs that create safer, more comfortable environments for freedom of expression.

Clere said he was deeply disappointed with Superintendent McCormick’s decision to try and stop the legislation.

“I’m heartbroken, but I’m more heartbroken for all of the students, journalism teachers, advisors, professors and everyone else who got us to this point,” Clere said.

Clere said that while his team anticipated pushback from school administrators, they were unprepared to be blindsided by the Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick was not available for comment.

“The worst part for me is having to go back tell these students that the system let them down,” Clere said. “Because essentially the DOE and administrative interest groups killed it in secret, behind closed doors.”

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

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