Teenagers mobilize for “Stand for Speech” in New York
Teens for Press Freedom, New Voices New York, and the Student Press Law Center organized a rally in support of the New York Student Journalist Free Speech Act.
Teens for Press Freedom, New Voices New York, PEN America, Student Press Law Center, and about 40 high school students gathered in New York to advocate for passage of New York’s Student Journalist Free Speech Act on June 13, 2021. The gathering provided another opportunity for lawmakers to understand why the law is needed.
The “Stand for Speech” gathering highlighted the challenges of censorship facing student journalists. Speakers included Townsend Harris High School student journalists Victoria Oei and Samantha Sestak as well as Teens for Press Freedom co-founders Charlotte Hampton and Isabel Tribe. They were joined by Manhattan District Attorney Candidate Tahanie Aboushi, SPLC Board Member and First Amendment Advocate Ava Lubell, and Katina Paron of Hunter College, and author of “NewsHound’s Guide to Journalism student ”.
“High school students produce courageous and important journalism, reporting on the impact of COVID-19 or issues of racial justice and Black Lives Matter. But we know these courageous reporting is often censored by administrators who undermine students’ First Amendment rights because the content makes them uncomfortable or controversial, ”said the co-founders of Teens For Press Freedom. “It must stop. This is why we are organizing the rally and why we need the Student Journalist Free Speech Act to pass in New York.
In a school that required a screening, we probably wouldn’t have been able to publish these powerful journalistic articles.
VICTORIA OEI AND SAMANTHA SESTAK
The rally began with Townsend Harris High School students Victoria Oei and Samantha Sestak describing their experience with a journalism program that works with censorship protection. Their newspaper’s charter promises that “the administration will refrain from requiring a prior review of any article and will not prohibit any subject from student reporters.” All students deserve the same from their schools.
Their founding director, Dr Malcolm Largmann saw the importance of codifying press freedom shortly before his retirement in 2001. Victoria and Samantha were surprised to learn that most students do not have the same freedom. tell all the stories that are important to their community. It motivated them to speak out.
“We know we’ve forced a lot of difficult conversations through our reporting,” Victoria Yes said at the rally. “We are surrounded by education officials and politicians who, in recent years in particular, have called on young people to stand up, speak out and reject injustices … as society tells us to find the courage to challenge injustice, it also allows educational institutions to censor students.
Using their freedom, Yes and Sestak along with their classmates highlighted gaps in their administration’s plan to reopen COVID-19 schools. For example, they inspected their high school bathrooms and found a worrying lack of soap and even soap dispensers. How are students supposed to stay safe and follow established protocols without necessary equipment? This led to changes that could have saved lives.
The standard that is in place today is confusing and subjective.
The standard established in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) gives school administrators the ability to censor students “for reasonable educational purposes”. It offers too much control over the speech and activities of their students by being vague and subjective. Administrators have used ambiguity to censor political comments contrary to their beliefs and to stifle conversations about controversial but important events and ideas. The Student Press Law Center’s toll-free legal helpline has supported hundreds of student journalists over the past year facing challenges in their work regarding racial justice protests, the COVID-19 response and sexual misconduct from school staff.
Katina Paron wrote the book “A Newshound’s Guide to Student Journalism” drawing on her experience working with student journalists over the past 25 years. At the rally, she described the disparity in press freedom in New York City schools and how it diminishes the quality of education their students receive. New York’s Student Journalist Free Speech Act would help clarify what can be published and standardize standards statewide.
“Without the law on freedom of expression for student journalists, teenage journalists are made to believe that administrative dysfunction is not systematic,” Paron said. “They are told that the concern their peers have for your education is invalid. Without the law on freedom of expression for student journalists, all students will be deprived of their powers in their education and in their communities due to the lack of transparency and information.
New Voices advocates are working in their states to reverse the effects of the Supreme Court’s Hazlewood decision. Learn more and get involved. (add links)
These are the foundations of our country, of our democracy.
Just in time for a summer downpour, Manhattan District Attorney Candidate Tahanie Aboushi joined the rally to cheer on advocates and express her support for New York’s free speech law for student journalists. In her speech, she reinforced her commitment to push back against rights violations. She also reminded attendees that if someone did not record a video, many cases of law enforcement misconduct would go unpunished.
“Without our press which documented the abuses and also our movement, we would not have been able to collect history and build for progress – for a better future for our country.
I am a media lawyer. I work for journalists. I work for you.
Ava Lubbell is a media lawyer and member of the Board of Directors of the Student Press Law Center. Defending journalists is his job. As a press freedom advocate, she spoke to students about their rights and asked them to write letters to state lawmakers asking them to support the law. Lubbell previously worked in the governor’s office in New York and knows how politicians can be affected by letters from their constituents, especially students. His call to action stressed that change may not come immediately, but their persistence and presence in the rally would make a difference.
“So when I said I was relieved to be among the warriors of a free press, I really mean it. When we talk about making changes, codifying student speaking rights, codifying rights, we’re not talking about a short-term commitment, ”Lubbell relayed. “Our fight, the fight for freedom of expression, the fight for the freedom of expression of students requires endurance. It means showing up at rallies, making calls, writing letters, advocating with your community, spreading the word, building momentum and lobbying. “
These letters will strengthen advocacy by Teens for New York, SPLC and New Voices New York. Advocates are encouraged by the ongoing momentum for the passage of New York’s Student Journalist Free Speech Act.