Fighting for the First: First amendment fails to protect high school publications in all states

Fighting for the First: First amendment fails to protect high school publications in all states

Sally Cochran, Editor in Chief

For those unfamiliar with history, the First Amendment to the Constitution grants personal rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Unfortunately, the First Amendment only protects from government suppression, not from censorship by a school’s administration, according to the Student Press Law Center.

On Sept. 17, the Journalism Education Association published a report on the censorship at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania.

After a year-long fight over the use of the word “Redskins,” the school’s mascot, the editors of Neshaminy’s newspaper “The Playwickian” decided to not publish a submission laden with that word.

The school pulled funding from the publication, suspended adviser Tara Huber for two days and suspended editor-in-chief Gillian McGoldrick from working on the publication for the rest of the month.

Although the removal of a racially insensitive term from a student publication is a noble cause, the big issue here is the censorship put in place by their school.

By the time students are in high school, they — with the guidance of their adviser — know what they should and should not print in a high school paper.

Yet, in modern-day America, only nine states have complete freedom of the press for students.

Kansas is one.

It’s important to note granting students freedom of the press doesn’t let them print anything and everything without any responsibility for their words — ever heard of libel?

It’s the written form of slander, and student journalists in states who grant freedom of the press to high school publications can be sued as adults for it.

Granting high school students First Amendment rights will not result in the printing of rumors, gossip or straight-up lies — after a basic journalism class, students know and stay within their rights.

The specific nature of the word “Redskins” is somewhat impartial to the violation of their rights.

When it comes down to it, if “The Playwickian” decided the word “cupcake” was too offensive to print, it’s a student newspaper. It should be the staff’s choice.

“The Tiger Print” has chosen not to print certain content several times during my experience on staff because we felt it was unethical.

There was significant thought that went into those decisions, and often they were made after reading through a story once or twice already.

If it was so simple to decide to not print something after two or three reads, how much thought would have gone into the choice to not print the name of their school mascot — a word they hear daily?

Besides, the piece in question was a letter to the editor.

If you flip to page 8 of this issue, you’ll notice that our policy regarding letters to the editor includes the right to edit all submissions.

The staff of “The Playwickian” attempted to compromise with administration by printing “R——-” instead, but they were told to print the word in its entirety.

Despite censorship of a student newspaper being immoral everywhere, it is actually illegal in Kansas.

I’m thankful to live where I can print what I want without the threat of censorship or punishment from school administration.

Unfortunately, there are many student journalists who unfairly don’t have this right.