BREAKING NEWS: Speech Rights of Student Journalists bill is law!

Journalism advisers herald return to 'Tinker Standard'

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BREAKING NEWS: Speech Rights of Student Journalists bill is law!

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HB5902, the Speech Rights of Student Journalist Act, became law in Illinois on July 29. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature means that student journalists and their advisers are protected against arbitrary censorship; now they can report responsibly about the ideas, events and issues that matter for both their schools and communities. 

According to Public Act 099-0678, the passage of which was spearheaded by IJEA Legislative Chair Stan Zoller and Illinois State Director Brenda Field, “a student journalist has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media, regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school district or by use of school facilities or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled.”

There are some exceptions to the protection, namely libel, slander, obscenity, invasion of privacy, violation of federal or state law or anything that “incites students to commit an unlawful act, or violate policies of the school district, or to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.”

However, advisers are trained to understand good ethical journalism, passing those lessons onto their staffs. Therefore, the public act calls for “no prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications” outside of the above exceptions, and further grants protection in that “school officials shall have the burden of showing justification without undue delay prior to a limitation of student expression under this Act.”

For advisers, the law provides one more layer of great news: “No expression made by students in the exercise of freedom of speech or freedom of the press shall be deemed to be an expression of school policy, and no school district or employee or parent, legal guardian, or official of the school district shall be held liable in any civil or criminal action for any expression made or published by students, except in cases of willful or wanton misconduct.”

The SPLC’s full article on the signing of the legislation into a public act explains further what the move means for both advisers and student journalists across the state. Also, the editorial board of the Daily Herald (in Arlington Heights, Ill.) praised the passage of HB5902 as a way to “give both young journalists and the student constituencies they serve a greater and more realistic understanding of the role a free press plays in society.”

IJEA sends a big thank you to Rep. Will Guzzardi and Sen. Daniel Biss for helping bring Illinois back to the Tinker standard. And thank you to Frank LoMonte from the Student Press Law Center. According to Zoller and field, “we couldn’t have done it without all of you.”

REACTIONS FROM JOURNALISM ADVISERS:

“Congratulations. What great news for the student journalists in the land of Lincoln and the entire USA.” Linda Puntney

“I was on this when we trying to see what we could in 1964!  1964!  A lot of water into the cistern since then.  Building on what had come before, the present team did the trick with supreme smarts and admirable  professionalism.  I am so happy for all the student journalists now and in the future in Illinois and all the Journalism teachers and publications advisers who can teach and advise to their fullest ability.  The greatest joy in this field is we know we change students’ lives.” Wayne Brasler

“Fantastic. This is great news for all. Hope the good news keeps coming from other states.” Gloria Olman

“A big thank you goes out to you [Stan Zoller] and your committee.” Tom Winski

“Wonderful news, indeed!” Susan Tantillo

“Awesome! So excited for Illinois student journalists! Way to go team!” Sue Skalicky

“Exciting news! That’s great!” Linda Jones

“Congratulations to the whole team! As an Illinois adviser who has faced some First Amendment issues this past year, I just can’t thank you enough! I let the editors know last night and they are filled with joy. Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Liz Levin

“Yay, yay, yay! From a retired Illinois publications adviser and JEA mentor, who went through adversity and stress fighting censorship of high school press too many times to count, I say thank you, Stan, Brenda, and everyone else who helped in getting this law passed. Thank you for your time and hard work for the students and advisers in our state who now can be assured that if they follow the guidelines and do their job the right way, they can write with freedom. Your efforts will forever be appreciated.” Babs Erickson

FROM OUR SENATE SPONSOR:

“We finally got there! I so appreciated the chance to work on this, and while the road was sometimes a little bumpier than we would have liked, I’m thrilled it worked out. Thanks for your commitment and tenacity, and for allowing me to be a part of the project.” Sen. Daniel Biss

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