Another win for student press

Another win for student press

Another win for student press

With its new bill protecting journalism students, the nation's leading defender of fundamental rights on college campuses says West Virginia is heading in the right direction.

The new law grants statutory protections to student journalists in public K-12 schools and public institutions of higher education.

Although a provision has been slightly revised to exclude speech considered "offensive to a reasonable person" from the list of unauthorized expression, the law still specifically does not "protect expression by a student" that is "obscene, vulgar, pornographic, or of sensual or illicit sexual content."

Coleman, John (FIRE) Coleman

John Coleman, legislative counsel for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), takes issue with the fact that the Student Journalist Press Freedom Protection Act opens the door for administrators to censor speech protected by the First Amendment.

"It really comes down to censorship," says Coleman. "We've found that college administrators will often use policies, or they themselves will censor stories or works by students that work at student newspapers."

He adds that protections for K-12th-grade students are different from college -level journalism students.

"In K-12 public schools, administrators, according to the Supreme Court, can subject students to prior review and censorship for the use of vulgar and offensive terms in public discourse," the attorney notes. "But the same is not true at public colleges."

Following the lead of 17 other states, Governor Jim Justice (R) signed the measure into law late last month. Still, FIRE hopes West Virginia lawmakers will revise its problematic language next year.