In 1988, a monumental Supreme Court case was decided that would change student journalists’ first amendment rights.
Today, Missouri House Bill 743 — commonly known as the Cronkite New Voices Act after longtime TV journalist Walter Cronkite — is seeking to override the Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier to give the right to a free press back to Missouri students. The bill would no longer allow prior review in school districts, with some limitations.
The bill, sponsored by Craig Fishel, R-Springfield, was sent to the Missouri Senate Feb. 28 after passing in the Missouri House of Representatives 147-3. The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s Education Committee.
The 1988 case, Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier came after students in a high school journalism class at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis published stories about teen pregnancy and divorce in their publication, The Spectrum. The school’s principal removed the stories prior to publication, feeling it was inappropriate and an invasion of privacy.
Since the Supreme Court upheld the principal’s actions on Jan. 13, 1988, school administrators across the country have done the same.
Like other student publications, the publication at Boonville High School in Boonville, Missouri was subject to prior review and censorship by school officials. Even before I became involved in our newspaper class, there was censorship by the administrators.
However, I would experience censorship first-hand when a classmate had an infographic censored.
I wrote a story regarding the new, $500,000 baseball stadium the city constructed. Then, a classmate designed an infographic criticizing the idea of wasting the money on the new baseball stadium.
The story was published in the Potty Press, a single piece of tabloid paper pasted to bathroom stalls. The principal green-lighted the issue, but later changed his mind.
After physically cutting the story from each printed issue that had already been distributed, students became irate. Later, a heated argument spawned on Facebook — where students defended our actions (publishing the infographic) or defended the administration’s actions and the baseball stadium.
Currently, school administrators are able to censor stories they feel are inappropriate or challenge their actions and beliefs.
The press plays an important role in our democracy — to keep citizens informed, hold our representatives responsible and affect change.
While many underestimate the importance of student journalism, it also plays an important role in schools. For instance, it informs people of the $500,000 baseball stadium the school constructed while roofs leaked, well-worn science labs were used and other student activity groups got little to no funding. That information can help affect change, especially through parents and local alumni who read our paper. Student journalists play a role similar to what journalists do for government and organizations.
It should be no surprise that student journalists can go on to become journalists who cover large stories — those who uncover scandals, report on officials not doing their jobs and problems in the community.
Students and parents should be informed about problems in their community and their school, good or bad.
To quote the Washington Post’s motto: “Democracy dies in darkness.”
CORRECTION: The baseball stadium was paid for by the City of Boonville.