New Voices, a project of the Student Press Law Center, is a grassroots movement aimed at providing protections for high school and college students to, as they say, “give young people the legally protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern.” This includes free speech protections and freedom of the press for school affiliated news sources.

Freedom of the press is not always a guarantee for high-school and college journalists. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier that a school has the right to censor sensitive information in school sponsored mediums as long as they can prove that the content is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”

New Voices argues that “the only effective way of teaching civics in schools is for students to discuss contemporary political issues” and that school censorship prevents this type of discourse and that “students who work in newsrooms supportive of press freedom report higher levels of civic effectiveness.” They are working to provide school journalists more freedom of expression by introducing legislation to reach three different goals.

First, New Voices aims to restore the “Tinker Standard” in high school journalism. This standard ensures protection from censorship unless content is “libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a ‘clear and present danger’ or a ‘material and substantial disruption’ of the school.”

Second, New Voices intends to protect public college papers from being censored under the Hazelwood decision. New Voices claims that, as college journalists are mostly adults, as opposed to high school where most journalists are minors, the Hazelwood decision is not generalizable to higher education, and there should be protections in place to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

Third, New Voices wants to extend the protections that public colleges experience to private colleges. As public colleges are government run, their students are protected under the constitution and, most importantly, the first amendment. Private college students, on the other hand, are granted only those rights granted to them by their college or university.

Currently, New Voices has launched a federal campaign to pass their legislation, as well as 19 state campaigns. Oklahoma’s campaign is led by Judy Robinson, assistant director of student media at Oklahoma University. To get involved or learn more about Oklahoma’s campaign, contact jgrobinson@ou.edu.