Student, representative propose student free press legislation in Ky.

KENTUCKY -- With the help of his state representative, a college sophomore in Kentucky has initiated a bill in the Commonwealth's House of Representatives that seeks to combat post-Hazelwood student press rights restrictions.

Western Kentucky University student Josh Moore has been involved in student journalism since his high school days, and he recognizes that student media outlets can be important venues for young people to learn and practice the rules of the trade. That learning experience, he says, should not be curtailed by administrative censorship.

"I just think that to better educate student journalists not only should they be taught what journalists have to do, but they should practice that responsibility," he said. "If they're the ones making decisions about the content of their papers, then they are also going to be the ones that have to deal with the consequences and understand the responsibility that goes along with those rights that journalists have."

In spring 2008, Moore began researching anti-censorship laws in other states, consulted the Student Press Law Center Web site for ideas, and enlisted the help of Rep. Brent Yonts, D-Greenville, to draw up a proposal for his state. Yonts introduced HB 43 in the Kentucky House of Representatives on Jan. 6, and it was referred to the Education Committee Jan. 7.

The proposed bill gives high school student journalists the right to free speech and press in student-produced media "whether or not the media are supported financially by the school or by the use of school facilities or are produced in conjunction with a high school class."

Aside from limitations for libelous expression, an unwarranted invasion of privacy, and the provocation of danger or disruption on campus, the bill allows students freedom in "determining the news, opinions, feature, and advertising content" for their publications. Also included is a provision protecting advisers who refuse to suppress the "protected expression of students."

Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts and Oregon all have laws restoring to high school media the First Amendment protection that was reduced by the Supreme Court's 1988 ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, in which the Supreme Court decided that public high school newspapers that were not established as public forums are subject to lesser First Amendment protection. California and Kansas also have retaliation protection for advisers similar to what Yonts is proposing in Kentucky.

According to Yonts, he does not currently see a problem in Kentucky with student media censorship, but said if passed, this bill would "simply set the standard" for what student press regulations are and are not acceptable.

Not all those working in education in Kentucky are happy with the bill, though.

"We feel strongly that high school students are still in that age where they need guidance and direction," said David Baird, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association.

While Moore maintains the bill would afford students a better learning experience in media production, Baird believes the opposite.

"Working professionally [as a journalist], you would still have an editor," he said, comparing administrator control with that of a professional newsroom editor. He added, "Our job is to teach kids about the real world."

For now, Moore is busy shoring up support and attempting to convince his dissenters. With the help of the Kentucky High School Journalism Association and the Kentucky Press Association, Moore has sent out e-mails and letters to journalism educators across his state. He also created a Facebook group, "Kentuckians for a Free Student Press," and a Web site,

"Right now we are just trying to get as many students, journalism advisers, professors, anyone interested to write letters, e-mails or call their legislator and voice their support for the bill," Moore said. "We're hoping that the school board association comes around to the idea of better journalism education."

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