Staff Ed: New Voices

Isabella Ashton, Editor-in-Chief

On November 2, the Warrior Ledger staff attended the Utah High School Media Symposium at Utah Valley University. There, the staff was introduced to New Voices. This movement aims to increase freedom of speech for high school journalism students by introducing protective bills to state legislatures. We as a staff believe that Utah should adopt New Voices legislation in order to ensure that student journalists across all districts and schools have equal protections.
   The Supreme Court Case Tinker v. Des Moines established that students’ First Amendment rights are protected in public schools. After Tinker, however, a series of Supreme Court cases began to limit student speech determined to be lewd, obscene, or disruptive. In 1988, the decision for Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier stated that public schools can limit speech that is school-sponsored and that school officials have a right to make editorial decisions regarding school publications.
The Warrior Ledger is considered a school-sponsored publication, and our articles will be censored if they violate Utah laws or Granite School District policy. We have been lucky enough to have a supportive school staff that does not limit our speech beyond these guidelines. However, we also recognize that other schools are not as fortunate.
Under Hazelwood, censorship often falls to the discretion of school officials. Because of this, articles may be censored not because they violate Utah guidelines, but because they violate the personal morals, beliefs, or comfort levels of the censor. These factors should not play a role in whether or not an article is considered appropriate for publication. Without further protections for school newspapers, the nature of the law creates the possibility that students might be censored on unfair grounds.
New Voices works to fight this problem. As of February 2018, thirteen states have passed some form of New Voices legislation. For example, Nevada passed a bill in 2017 that protects student journalists from punitive action if their material unintentionally causes a substantial disruption at the school. Vermont now protects school-affiliated media from censorship so long as it does not break the law. And North Dakota’s New Voices Act further clarifies that students’ First Amendment rights generally align with citizens’ rights.
   Student journalistic standards become more clear and the protections more effective with these laws in place. In Utah and other states without such laws, the burden falls on the students to prove that their material is appropriate for publication. Rather, the burden should fall on schools to prove that censorship is justified.
   The Warrior Ledger is not advocating for the loosening of journalistic standards. Student journalists should report with integrity, honesty, and professionalism. As long as they adhere to these standards, student newspapers should not be censored on the basis of their content.