Tag Archives: First Amendment

Tinkering with Prior Review: Why Journalism Matters #11

This is #11 in a bi-montly series by NCTE member Alana Van Der Sluys.  

Alana Rome

I had originally wanted to write a post this week on how scholastic censorship occurs not just at the high school level but also at the collegiate level. It would have been a nice procession from my latest blog on how such silencing affects civic responsibility and democracy.

But to paraphrase John Steinbeck, the best-laid plans often go awry. . . when scholastic journalism makes its way to the Senate floor.

On August 1, New Jersey Senator Diane Allen (R)  introduced a New Voices bill with Senator Nia Gill (D) and Senator Jennifer Beck (R) as co-sponsors. As a result, there are now identical bills in both the State Senate (S-2506) and Assembly (A-4028).

In summary, the bill would hold school administrators to the 1969 Supreme Court decision of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503. As a result of that ruling, students gained First Amendment rights for the first time; student press was protected unless deemed disruptive of the education process.

In light of incidences like Tom McHale’s resignation over a prior review controversy, John Wodnick’s resignation over a three-month censorship controversy, and Barbara Thill’s resignation over “changes administrators made to the journalism program,” it seems worthwhile to note that this new bill will protect journalism teachers and advisers from administrative retribution as well.

In a private email, Garden State Scholastic Press Association (GSSPA) founder and New Voices New Jersey contact John Tagliareni did point out a very crucial component to this bill’s success, particularly in its third introduction to the Senate: the public’s and Senate’s knowledge of the difference between prior restraint and prior review.

Administrators will still be able to exercise prior review, or the ability to view material before it is published. If a school exercises its right to prior review, it is typically a rule stated in the school’s handbook or is verbally agreed upon by the administration and journalism adviser; some schools do not exercise prior review by choice, but instead trust the journalism advisers and students to only publish what is protected under the First Amendment.

What the bill protects students and teachers against, however, is prior restraint of material that is protected under the First Amendment. Prior restraint, as the term suggests, prevents publication of material. This should only be done if the material is not protected under the First Amendment (i.e., material that is libelous, presents a clear and present danger to students and staff, and is disruptive to education).

Although not favored by scholastic newspaper advisers and staff, the option of administrators to use prior review is essential; administrators need to at least have the right to pull material that is not protected under the First Amendment. However, the bill will protect against the administration’s pulling articles because, for example, they are critical of administration,  publicize a district controversy, or present an unpopular opinion.

So far, the bill has received support from the Working Conditions Committee of the New Jersey Education Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Journalism Education Association.

For more information on this bill and how you can support it, please see and “like” the New Voices of New Jersey Facebook page.  Student journalists can also join the Student Chapter of the GSSPA.

Alana Van Der Sluys is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting. 

First Amendment Rights, Censorship, and Law and Ethics: Why Journalism Matters

This is #8 in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana Rome

The First Amendment is arguably the most important freedom for US citizens. We recognize the value of freedom of speech and how few countries grant this right to its citizens, but the First Amendment is so much more than that.

For those who haven’t taken a government class in a while, in addition to freedom of speech, the First Amendment includes freedoms of assembly, petition, religion, and the press. Journalism students understand the nuances of that last freedom. Just as freedom of speech does not allow someone to say “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, there are circumstances where journalists are not protected under the First Amendment, and rightfully so; therefore, scholastic journalism programs help young people understand when and how to use their voices, especially when their readership   extends beyond their teachers.

Unprotected speech includes libel and slander. While libel is written and slander is spoken, both occur when one provides a false statement that significantly damages another’s reputation. While the truth remains a defense against both charges, journalists need to be wary of legal repercussions. Fighting words, imminent threats, and obscenities are also considered unprotected speech.

Student journalists need to take extra care, though, as they function under limited or nonpublic forums. While open or public forums allow anyone to contribute to the publication, school newspapers are usually either nonpublic forums, where administration reserves the right to prior review (approving content before publication) or limited forums, where the audience expands beyond the school community and the administration has a written or unwritten policy advocating student choice in publication content.

Another restriction for student journalists is that they are not necessarily protected under First Amendment rights if their reporting disturbs the learning environment of the school. Journalism students learn about several court cases related to students’ First Amendment rights, including Hazelwood School District et al. v. Kuhlmeier et al. In this 1988 case, the Supreme Court ruled the school had a right to censor articles published about teen pregnancy and divorce that referenced specific students within the school. The judges ruled that the censorship of school publications can occur when it is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

Journalism shows students in a very authentic way that considering one’s audience truly does matter. Not taking into consideration what to say and whom it is said about can land not only the journalism students themselves in real, legal hot water, but the advisers, administration, and school, as well.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on First Amendment rights and censorship fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9–10:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.4
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1.D
    Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.

Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting.