Alabama House Committee Approves Student Freedom of Expression

The Alabama House Education Committee unanimously approved a bill March 1 that would guarantee freedom of expression to public school students in school-sponsored publications.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney, states that student editors will be responsible for determining the content of their publications, but the final decision will be made by the publication's faculty adviser. The bill forbids school administrators from reviewing student publications before they are distributed.

The committee's vote puts the legislation in line for debate by the entire House of Representatives.

During a hearing the committee held on the bill, Bill Keller, director of the Alabama Press Association and Monica Hill, coordinator of the Alabama Scholastic Press Association, spoke in favor of the legislation.

Hill said supporters tried to have the section of the bill granting final content decisions to advisers removed, but committee members voted to keep it. Hill said she hopes the provision will be removed before the House votes on the final version of the bill.

Cathy McCandless, a journalism adviser who also spoke before the committee in favor of the legislation, teaches at Sparkman High School -- the same school where Schmitz teaches government several times a week. McCandless said she asked Schmitz, who served as newspaper adviser until 1992, to sponsor the legislation.

"At a lot of schools in Alabama, I think the students are [being] denied freedom of expression," McCandless said. "We\ndon't particularly have that problem here at Sparkman, but there are other schools [where] I know there are problems, and I think it's important. It's important to me and important to the students."

To date, six states - Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts - have enacted similar laws.

The text of HB 573 is available on the Alabama legislature's Web site at:

Legislation: Ala. HB 573