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Wirths’ bill protecting student journalists advances

Sparta. Students critical of school policies or boards of education would no longer be silenced, said Assemblyman Hal Wirths.

Sparta /
| 29 Mar 2021 | 02:54

Student journalists in public schools and colleges could soon be guaranteed freedom of expression rights under a bill advanced by the Assembly Education Committee and sponsored by Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris).

By prohibiting administrative censorship, the bill (A169) would essentially reverse Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, a 1988 Supreme Court decision that permitted school officials to exercise restraint of student newspapers. Except in cases where a story is libelous, incites violence or constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, student reporters would have the right to free speech.

Public schools and higher education institutions would be required to adopt a written policy concerning student freedom of expression in accordance with the provisions of the bill. Additionally, school employees would be shielded from retaliation for acting to protect a student engaged in freedom of expression. The Senate unanimously passed an identical bill (S108) on March 5, 2020. The bill now goes to the speaker for further consideration.

Wirths said student journalists often serve as watchdogs.

“Students who have been critical of school policies or decisions made by boards of education have been silenced by advisers or other school officials and their voices deserve to be heard,” said Wirths. “We live in a world where it is all too easy to tune out differing or uncomfortable opinions or viewpoints, but it is critical to a free society that we allow everyone to express themselves. Free student press gives budding journalists a platform to share stories that should not be suppressed.”