N. Dakota Takes on Hazelwood Ruling

FARGO, N.D. (CN) – North Dakota journalism students and faculty support a bill that would grant students many of the protections enjoyed by professional reporters — despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hazelwood ruling.
     The bipartisan House Bill 1471 would guarantee students their First Amendment Right in broadcast and publication.
     “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 institution or by use of facilities of the institution or produced in conjunction with a class in which the student is enrolled,” the bill states.
     Restrictions on student journalism have been problematic since the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, in which a school principal killed several school newspaper articles because he deemed them inappropriate.
     The students protested, but the Supreme Court’s 5-to-3 stated that the First Amendment does not require schools to promote particular types of student speech. This put student censorship at the discretion of a principal or other school administrator.
     House Bill 1471 does not protect libelous or slanderous comments, and contains a provision protecting the right to privacy.
     “The fact that, as journalists, we were afraid we would be fired or have our academic careers threatened for writing stories that were valid, important and necessary – simply because we were student journalists – is unacceptable,” former student newspaper editor Carrie Sandstrom told the Grand Forks Herald last week.
     Six University of Jamestown students wrote the preliminary bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Alex Looysen, R-Jamestown.
     The bill requires that each school district have a written freedom of expression policy for students, in accordance with the legislation.
     The Bismarck Tribune called the bill a rejection of the Hazelwood Supreme Court ruling, and one of the first pieces of legislation in the nation to protect a student organization’s right to free speech.

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