Catch student rights fever in the Report archive

If you want to appreciate how drastically the student-rights pendulum has swung in America’s courts and legislatures over the past 35 years, consider a news item from the SPLC’s Report magazine of December 1977.

Reporting on the enactment of what became California Education Code Sec. 48907 – the nation’s first state statute protecting the freedom of the student press – writer Gary Weinstein reported that the only organized opposition to the bill came from ... the American Civil Liberties Union, which was concerned that legislators were giving schools too much authority by letting them censor speech that is “obscene, libelous, disruptive, or advocates breaking the law.”

Fast-forward three-and-a-half decades, and – as reporter Emily Summars tells us in this issue of the Report – legislation giving students some facsimile of the rights Californians have enjoyed since the ‘70s is considered D.O.A. in legislatures from Nebraska to Vermont.

There is much about the ‘70s not to be nostalgic for – Spiro Agnew, “You Light Up My Life,” sideburns the size of Greyhound buses – but for students, respect for basic individual liberties was undeniably better. That same 1977 edition of the SPLC’s magazine brought news of a federal appeals-court ruling, Gambino v. Fairfax County School Board, granting Virginia high school students the right to publish a front-page article about the importance of contraception for sexually active teens – a story that many federal judges might regard as legally unprotected speech today.

It is easier today than ever to trace the decline in regard for student rights, because – thanks to the efforts of Publications Fellow Brian Schraum and intern Sam Tobin – every edition of the Report magazine is now viewable online, either through the website or on Issuu at

These archived issues provide a valuable archival reference, reminding us all that a more open-minded and educationally supportive way of life not only is attainable but has existed in our recent past, with not a hint of the chaos or bedlam that school administrators so often predict if their control is anything but absolute.

Beyond that, the Report archives offer an entertaining look back at how some of today’s most celebrated journalists got their start.

Check out the Fall 1979 edition, which features the artwork of then-college student Bob Staake (whose indelible cartoons are now a fixture in The New Yorker and The Washington Post) and stories by student writer Barton Gellman (now a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author of the Dick Cheney biography, Angler). We’re proud to count these luminously creative talents – and many more like them – as part of the SPLC family.

reports, Spring 2012