Journalists rally against changes to Pa. code





PENNSYLVANIA — The battle to stop the state board of education from "gutting" the school code relating to student journalists' rights continued over the past several months, as the state school press association recommended the board withdraw its proposal.

\n

The board of education proposed changes last year that would trim the 24 paragraphs of code protecting student journalists down to a terse four paragraphs of broad guidelines.

\n

Journalism educators, school press association members and professional news organizations have spoken out strongly against the proposal.

\n

Among the most troubling changes for free-expression advocates would be the removal of the word "immediate" in the phrase "students have the right to express themselves unless the expression … threatens immediate harm to the welfare of the school or community." Another is the prohibition of material that is "plainly offensive," a broad term that critics say could be interpreted in various ways.

\n

George Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania School Press Association, said he and several other association members went before the board in January to urge it to reconsider its proposal, which the board's revision committee chairwoman Edith Isacke has called "streamlining" the code.

\n

"When she calls it streamlining, I call it gutting," Taylor said.

\n

Following the meeting, Taylor formally submitted the association's concerns.

\n

"They say, 'Our intent is not to limit students' freedom of expression,' " Taylor said. "That's sure not obvious in what they have put forward, unless they're really naïve and think that principals are open-minded creatures."

\n

Taylor said in late April he had not received a response from the state.

\n

Pennsylvania is one of eight states that provide the student press additional protection beyond that granted under the First Amendment as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

\n

Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts all have statutes protecting student press rights. Pennsylvania and Washington state have regulations.

\n

There have been no further developments in other states where similar protections have been proposed.


reports, Spring 2002