Advocates storm statehouses to build support for students' free expression

Oregon, Alabama legislatures to introduce anti-Hazelwood bills; other states may follow

Hazelwood decision limiting the free-press and free-expression rights of high school students, student press advocacy groups are still fighting for the statutory restoration of those rights in statehouses around the country.   In Hazelwood, the High Court defined for the first time the specific First Amendment protections provided to students working for school-sponsored publications. The majority opinion, written by Justice Byron White, granted high school authorities the privilege of prior review and prior restraint of many "school-sponsored publications, theatrical productions and other expressive activities that students, parents, and members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the [endorsement] of the school" if those officials could show their censorship to be "reasonably related to [educational] concerns."   To combat this restriction on student press freedoms, defenders of the student press now look to state governments to enact what are commonly referred to as "anti-Hazelwood bills" that ensure and protect the student expression rights denied by the High Court in 1988.   California has had such a law on its books since 1977. Five states -- Massachusetts, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas and Arkansas -- have enacted anti-Hazelwood legislation since 1988.   Multiple efforts around the country fell short last year, but student press advocates in at least two states are readying their efforts for 2001, while four more are on deck for the near future, organizing grassroots efforts and securing sponsors and supporters in their respective state legislatures and assemblies.   On the legislative front, organizers in Oregon are taking the lead on the issue. Kathleen Raley, adviser to the student newspaper at Brookings Harbor High School, where student journalists now refuse to publish a newspaper rather than submit to prior review, is leading the effort to pass a bill drafted by Portland School Board member Marc Abrams, former executive director of the Student Press Law Center.   Raley said the bill has bipartisan support among Oregon legislators. The bill is also backed by the Oregon Society of Professional Journalists.   The proposed bill would protect student newspapers from prior review and restraint, protect schools from legal liability and protect advisers from retaliation for a publication's content. The bill's supporters explained the importance of the issue in an information packet distributed to Oregon legislators.

"The test of an education is whether we have trained students to take up their roles as responsible citizens upon graduation. That doesn

reports, Winter 2000-01