HB 2382 provides rights for student journalists


Censorship is something generally associated with authoritarian regimes, but for years, it has existed within the U.S. when it comes to student journalists. The decision from Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, in which it was declared that a school has the right to limit the writing of their student-sponsored media for “any reasonable legitimate pedagogical purpose”, has left much to be desired when it comes to following the First Amendment right to free speech.

Over the years, the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision has been taken loosely. The decision never stated specific grounds for what could and couldn’t be held out of student publications, which has led to uncertainties in many cases. The original decision was made on the basis that student publications aren’t guaranteed the same First Amendment rights as other, more established, professional publications. While this standard has been held true, a recent wave of bills called New Voices has taken over 14 U.S. states, including Virginia.

Virginia’s version of the bill, HB 2382, states that administration and local school boards do not have the right to request an approval of any publication as long as it is run by a student media adviser. In addition, it also sets specific rules for what is allowed to be held out of a publication, clearing up the gray area created by the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision.

Most people on the outside believe that First Amendment protection has already guaranteed students their right to publish, but this notion isn’t always true. In addition to Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, other major court cases such as Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969 have left much out when it comes to specifics. With HB 2382, all of these issues have been addressed. Subsection C of the bill lists the entirety of the restrictions against the student journalists, and Subsection D details the cases in which administration is allowed to step in with regulation.

One of the biggest concerns with this bill is the fact that student journalists aren’t as experienced and more often make mistakes in their writing. However, the editing and “prior review” practices are not being eliminated. School officials still have the right to correct any piece of writing they believe has factual issues; the only change is that they are no longer allowed to prevent the publishing of pieces written factually by a student writer, even if they criticize the school system or the administration.

As a student journalist, I think I speak for all of us when I say that the passing of this bill is a huge step towards a positive future of this country. With the current state of the national media, where everything seems to be twisted in one way or another, the clarity of HB 2382 is a welcome relief. Everything is written with the goal of giving the next generation’s reporters free reign to learn the nuances of journalism, and this is crucial. Allowing administration to hold us back as writers isn’t ever going to allow us to take that next step necessary to make change in the future.

Of course, there do need to be barriers, and HB 2382 takes care of that too. The bill knocks two birds out with one stone: giving journalists their freedom of speech and expression, while also keeping the students in check by making them follow the basic rules of journalism everywhere. In all aspects, HB 2382 should be looked at as a positive. The issues that the bill addresses have been problems that weren’t addressed for decades, and especially now, deserve some special attention.