Legislation aimed at clarifying the roles of student journalists, their schools and advisers was heard Thursday morning in Olympia. A local teacher strongly supports the bill and says he is pleased with how it went.
“There was a total bipartisan acknowledgement of the issues and a good understanding of the proposed legislation,” Vince DeMiero said.
As MLTnews reported Wednesday, DeMiero has been a teacher at Mountlake Terrace High School since 1988 and has spent several years at the helm of the Hawkeye student newspaper, which has won numerous awards.
Senate Bill 6233 seeks to clarify a student reporter’s First Amendment rights. Under the bill, student editorial staff would have full control of what gets published and would determine how to cover it. Faculty advisers and school administrators would not be accountable for what the students publish.
“SB 6233 makes clear that educators like me – publication advisers – would no longer have to fear for our jobs merely because we choose to serve as educators and advisors rather than editors or censors of student expression and student media,” DeMiero wrote in a letter published on the Washington Journalism Education Association (WJEA) website.
DeMiero was president of the WJEA for four years. The organization, which says it supports free and responsible journalism, has taken a strong stance in support of the bill.
Thursday morning, DeMiero estimates at least 50 people arrived in Olympia to watch the hearing. Eight people, including DeMiero and two students, testified in favor of the bill.
The only person to testify against the bill was a representative of the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP).
The AWSP says the bill does not take into consideration how principals can be involved with all facets of school operations, including the journalism program.
In a statement, the organization’s Governmental Relations Director Jerry Bender cites a case from 2008. Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup was sued for a story about student sexual experiences. The story included interview subjects quoted by name, and later said they were harassed.
Parents sued the district, but the district won the lawsuit. Still, it left a mark for the AWSP.
“When things go wrong such as the newspaper case at Emerald Ridge High School a few years ago, not only were the building leaders involved, but the district leaders and the school board engaged in trying to correct a major mistake that harmed students,” Bender said. “SB 6233 can cut the principal out of the discussion.”
The AWSP also says that if a journalism teacher is new to the career, a principal should be able to oversee the publication.
DeMiero says this should not be a concern.
“As long as we make it clear that what shows up is the student’s content, then not only is it theirs, but it is not mine,” DeMiero said. “That means I’m not liable for it.”
The bill is sponsored by a mix of Republicans and Democrats, most of which are in the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education that heard the bill today.
The committee could vote on the bill as soon as today. We will update this story if that happens.
–By Natalie Covate