WJEA Winner: First amendment rights of students

Cartoon by Anna Hartman

by Gabi Tedeschi – Copy Editor

The extent to which the First Amendment applies to student journalists has long been debated. Senate Bill 6233, which failed to pass in the Washington state Senate Rules Committee, would label all school-sponsored media at public institutions as public forums entitled to free expression and prevent school officials from being held responsible for their content. While it is understandable for districts to want control over the media they publish, their primary responsibility is to educate students. Because free expression facilitates the learning of personal responsibility, Senate Bill 6233 is a necessary measure.

This bill would encourage student writers and editors to take full responsibility for their opinions and statements. In any future career, they will need to decide independently what statements are appropriate and how to phrase opinions without offending others. Regardless of whether they become professional journalists, writing for an unrestricted student publication is excellent preparation.

Freedom of speech and press in public institutions also teaches students who are interviewed to consider the ramifications of their words. Juries affirmed in the Puyallup School District Case that the JagWire publication was not at fault for quoting students about oral sex because they consented and declined anonymity. A bill is needed to maintain student publications’ right to print controversial quotes in instances like this because it puts the responsibility of words on the student who says them. They will need to learn the necessary skill of considering how their words reflect on them and what consequences they may face as a result.

While school districts may feel that they deserve input when students depend on them to print the publications, the materials and services they provide are funded by tax payers for the purpose of educating students. Guaranteeing freedom of expression is necessary to achieve the purpose of publishing student media.

Senate Bill 6233 will ensure that student publications retain their educational value by fostering the development of personal responsibility. Senator Joe Fain, the bill’s main sponsor, promises to reintroduce the bill and it is important that Washington communities voice support for the measure to improve our schools’ ability to prepare students for their future. For students, learning that what they say and how they say it has power is a key part of growing into professional, responsible adults.

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