This New York Times story from July 2018 quotes Mike Hiestand, our senior legal counsel: “We live in a democracy where the First Amendment isn’t instinctive.It’s learned and nurtured, and we certainly are not providing a whole lot of opportunity for students to learn the First Amendment in a firsthand kind of way.”
From a 2017 column by The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan:
“In recent months, millions of dollars in donations have rained down upon journalism organizations ... But one tiny outfit, working out of a windowless Washington office, has not benefited. That’s unfortunate since its constituency — vast numbers of high school and college journalists — is far bigger than the number of professional journalists.”
From a 2017 Columbia Journalism Review story: “Groups like the SPLC—dedicated to First Amendment and media law, and doing impactful work, but not as well known as some of its bigger brethren—deserve attention.”
Original reporting by Student Press Law Center can be found here. Below is a sampling of news coverage across the U.S. that cite the SPLC’s expertise and impact.
Daily Evergreen reporters break major story, College Media Matters (9-24-2018). Reach out to legal counsel before publishing to look for libel and to put your mind at ease. We sought help from the , and they were great.
High school journalists stand up to censorship and win, The Associated Press (9-23-2018). “The importance of this case was that it really did provide a good solid example that these laws really are important and do work,” said Mike Hiestand, legal consultant for the Washington-based Student Press Law Center, where about 40 percent of the incoming calls are about censorship.
Burlington school district rescinds principal’s article review policy,VTDigger, Burlington (9-15-2018) Editors at the Burlington High Register, the student paper, said Friday that principal Noel Green was re-instituting a policy that required all articles be . The students and their allies immediately criticized the move as a violation of the “New Voices” legislation passed by the Vermont Legislature in 2017 to protect student journalists from censorship. District officials said Saturday a new policy will instead be written to comply with the law. See SPLC’s story coverage here.
In a reversal, Burlington principal allows students to publish story, VTDigger, Burlington (9-13-2018) Mike Hiestand, a senior legal consultant for the Student Press Law Center, said that Green’s interpretation of the law was “nonsense.” “If that is Principal Noel Green’s take on this law, this is going to be a very, very long year for him,” he said. “The law was passed specifically to prevent things like this from happening. … His interpretation that this was substantially disruptive does not conform to what the law is.” See SPLC’s story coverage here.
Burlington High censorship could test Vermont’s ‘New Voices’ law. Vermont Digger, Burlington (9/11/2018) Mike Hiestand, a senior legal consultant for the Student Press Law Center, said the legality of the school’s actions depends on what specifically the school asked the students to do. “If this was a request, there isn’t a violation, but if this was an order, it clearly was,” he said.
The sun shines bright on our government,Valencia County News Bulletin, Belen, N.M. (8/1/2018) The gem that caught my eye Monday morning was a write-up by the Student Press Law Center about a law Connecticut passed in June, which allows a public agency to petition the state’s Freedom of Information Commission for relief from what it calls a “vexatious requester” of public records. See SPLC’s story here.
What you need to know about Title IX investigations,CBS19, Tyler, Texas (7/18/2018) In it's most basic form, Title IX states that no person in the United States, because of their sex, can be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity that's getting federal funding, like a public college. "Typically the violations, they involve specific people, but they are against an institution. So they would be investigating UT Tyler's compliance with Title IX," Mike Hiestand, a Senior Legal Consultant at the Student Press Law Center, said.
New Pennsylvania law allows school boards to discuss security measures in private, The Morning Call, Allentown, Pa. (7/15/2018) Media advocates said they understand the necessity of allowing districts to keep students safe, but that the law could open the door to abuses by public officials. “Any time you label something national security or security measure or something, it’s such a broad sort of category, we’ve seen a lot of abuse over the years with schools or other government agencies to say we’re not going to talk about this … and that’s sort of the end of the discussions,” said Mike Hiestand, senior legal consultant with the Student Press Law Center.
Censorship too common at universities like Lindenwood, experts say, Lindenlink (7/6/2018) Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, said, typically, colleges tend to be discreet about how they censor publications. “Very often they kind of whittle away at the budget in hopes of suffocating the publication, rather than just turning off the spigot,” he said. SPLC’s coverage here.
Hard News. Angry administration. Teenage Journalist’s Know What it is Like, The New York Times (7/1/2018) “We live in a democracy where the First Amendment isn’t instinctive,” said Mike Hiestand, the senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center, a group that provides free legal help to high school and college journalists. “It’s learned and nurtured, and we certainly are not providing a whole lot of opportunity for students to learn the First Amendment in a firsthand kind of way.”
Got a Story? Careful Who You Tell it To: Mt. SAC’s Marketing Department confuses students, campus community, SAC Media, Mt. San Antonio College, Walnut, Calif.(6/8/2018) "With colleges these days, it's all about the image," Frank LoMonte said. LoMonte added that the section was "setting a trap" for leakers, as it worked as a "mailbox" for "intercepting stories."LoMonte added that if the marketing department specifically used SEO in an effort to divert news stories to marketing instead of the student press, they are participating in deceptive marketing practices. He also said that this sets a bad precedent for the college and its students.
Alleged censorship of high school paper fuels hope for legislative action, The Texas Monitor, (6/4/2018) “It’s just a matter of figuring out if there is a champion in the legislature who has the ability to get anything done,” Frank LoMonte, a senior law fellow at the Student Press Law Center said in an email. “I expect that a lot of us will start sharply focusing on that in the weeks to come, because the Prosper situation is so outrageous that it’s the poster-child case that could fuel reform.”
CMA Stands with SPLC in Condemning Student Press Censorship at Texas High School, College Media Association (5/30/2018) “CMA serves college media advisers and their students,” said Chris Evans, CMA’s president. “However, in this case, the principal’s censorship is so egregious and damaging to students that we feel compelled to comment on this high school administrator’s actions. Censorship by government agencies, including high schools, damages the cause of education. This case is among the worst that we’ve seen.” (See SPLC letter the Prosper (Texas) ISD superintendent, endorsed by 18 organizations, and news release here.)
UMW restores funding for print edition of student-run newspaper. The Free-Lance Star, Fredericksburg, Va.(5/29/2018) A student-run Finance Committee recently reversed its controversial decision last month to eliminate print funding for The Blue & Gray Press.The newspaper had requested $13,666 to print the weekly publication for the 2018–19 school year, but the Finance Committee initially agreed to allot just $100 for office supplies. UMW faced the threat of a lawsuit from the Student Press Law Center, which says it is unconstitutional for universities to withhold money from student newspapers or “take any other action that is motivated by an attempt to control, manipulate or punish past or future content.” (SPLC’s coverage here.)
The Bill That Would Have Subjected UCPD to FOIA. The Chicago Maroon, University of Chicago (5/28/2018) In 2016, the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy group for students’ First Amendment rights, submitted 30 records requests to private university police forces across the nation. Three universities complied, an unsurprisingly small number considering that most states don’t require campus police forces to release their records to the public. Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia are the exceptions.
Prosper High School Journalists Stand Up to Censorship, National Coalition Against Censorship (5/25/2018). Student journalists at Prosper High School wrote to their Superintendent this week to protest the dismissal of their journalism instructor and the repeated censorship of editorial pieces in the student publication, Eagle Nation Online. (See SPLC letter the Prosper (Texas) ISD superintendent, endorsed by 18 organizations, and news release here.)
What's wrong with secret donor agreements like the ones George Mason University inked with the Kochs, Houston Chronicle (5/25/2018) Yet public-university foundations exist solely for the benefit of state-sponsored institutions, and they do work that the schools previously handled themselves. Furthermore, as state support for higher education has dried up, this kind of giving has increasingly funded such essentials as administrators’ salaries, academic programs, campus construction projects and scholarships. That’s why the Student Press Law Center calls these foundations “public bodies cloaked in a thin private veneer.” (SPLC’s coverage here.)
Student Journalists Claim They're Being Censored by Principal, KXAS-NBC5, Dallas-Fort Worth (5/25/2018) “Telling students that they need to change their stories if they want to get them published, change the editorials to be more uplifting, that sort of thing, that's a troubling sort of notion,” said Mike Hiestand of the Student Press Law Center. (SPLC’s coverage here.)
Fake news furor at Prosper High? Student reporters take on principal, WFAA-ABC8, Dallas-Fort Worth (5/24/2018) The young journalists have received support from a national organization, the Student Press Law Center, that first publicized their story, and they say that they have learned a valuable lesson from the ordeal. "We have to start learning how to report news," said student Haley Stack. "Not all news is just happy things." (SPLC’s coverage here.)
Prosper High School journalists allege newspaper censorship by principal, fight editorial policyThe Dallas Morning News and Propser Press (5/24/2018) "He's made it very clear here that he's censoring because he doesn't like the tone and the image it's projecting on the school," SPLC Senior Legal Counsel Hiestand said of principal John Burdett. "Effectively, he's telling the kids they need to publish fake news," he said. "You can't publish the actual news because it doesn't reflect well enough on the school." Hiestand said if the district does not resolve the issue, there are Texas attorneys willing to work pro bono to help students in the matter. (SPLC’s coverage here.)
The Harassment Problem in Scientific Dream Jobs, Outside (5/21/2018). As Marjorie Kirk of the Student Press Law Center noted in 2017, after the National Women’s Law Center filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the Department of Education for failing to provide records, “administrators refuse to release important records to the public…Without access to the records produced by universities, schools, and the Department of Education, there is little journalists, much less the public, can do to make sure that these public institutions are doing everything they should to make campuses safe.”
Tribune v. BYU: Judge defers decision on police records, The Daily Universe, Provo, Utah (5/17/2018) Statutes and case law across the United States are mixed about whether private campus police departments are subject to state records laws, according to the Student Press Law Center.
Taylor students take on press censorship, Chronicle Tribune, Marion, Ind. (5/16/18). Religion News Service, the Washington Examiner, the Student Press Law Center and several other religion and college media news sites have run stories in the last two weeks about the study, which was released on May 1 by the newly formed Student Press Coalition.
At SMU, a big fight erupts over its little newspaper as Daily Campus alumni fear censorship,The Dallas Morning News (5/15/2018). "What is lost when you lose independence is confidence to courageously take on people in authority," said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information and former executive director of the Student Press Law Center. "It's really hard to have that confidence when you know, at the end of the day, you're answerable to the journalism department or the provost."
UPDATE: UMW says concern about environment, not content, is reason behind funding cuts to student newspaper, Richmond Times-Dispatch (5/11/2018). The University of Mary Washington said Friday that “stockpiles and wasted copies” of the Fredericksburg school’s student-run newspaper, The Blue & Gray Press, led the Student Finance Committee last month to cut off funding for the print edition ... Universities cannot withhold money from student newspapers or “take any other action that is motivated by an attempt to control, manipulate or punish past or future content,” the Student Press Law Center says.
Print edition of UMW student newspaper comes to a halt, raising First Amendment concerns, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. (5/10/2018). The Student Press Law Center, or SPLC, thinks the Fredericksburg school violated the First Amendment by penalizing the newspaper for its content. Universities cannot withhold money from student newspapers or “take any other action that is motivated by an attempt to control, manipulate or punish past or future content.” SPLC Senior Legal Consultant Mike Hiestand said the editor of the Blue & Gray Press shared correspondence with him showing that “part of the reason for cutting off the funding is content-related.” He hopes the school will quickly reverse the decision, but said the SPLC will probably find an attorney to represent the newspaper free of charge if UMW does not back down.
Missouri can fix the Supreme Court’s mistake about freedom of the student press, The Kansas City Star (5/9/2018). In an op-ed, SPLC Senior Legal Fellow Frank LoMonte writes, “There will not be a Kansas City Star in the future if teenagers do not develop an interest in news. That starts with making news relevant and topical. Censorship does the opposite: It makes news frustrating and disempowering. That’s a recipe for civic disengagement. There is no organized opposition to Missouri’s bill, it has overwhelming support that crosses ideological and partisan divides.”
Students’ survey highlights censorship of Christian college newspapers, Religion News Service, (5/8/2018). As for the more than three-quarters of respondents who reported facing pressure from the university to edit or remove an article after publication, “that is an entirely different number than we’d get at a public school — it’d be much, much lower,” said Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center.
Evanston student newspaper confiscation leads to policy change, teacher's early retirement, Chicago Tribune (5/8/2018). Lowe said he contacted the Student Press Law Center the day the papers were confiscated, and the law center assigned an attorney. Stan Zoller, chair of the legislative committee for the Illinois Journalism Education Association and an independent journalist with the Elmhurst-based Citizen Advocacy Center’s Advisory Council, said the Student Press Law Center is advising him as he researches the situation.
#SaveStudentNewsrooms: They produce the independent journalists our society needs more than ever. The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel, (5/4/2018). Cutting funding for staff or operational expenses — such things as printing, equipment and supplies — or trying to make news operations answerable to administrators also erodes the freedom aspiring journalists need to properly do their jobs ... As noted recently by the Student Press Law Center and Poynter Institute for Media Studies, this trend toward silencing college journalists through budget and policy hijinks has led to a movement among student newspapers.
Hey BUnow! Happy 10th Birthday, BUNow, Bloomsburg (Pa.) University (5/2/2018). While college media are notorious for April Fool’s Day pranks, these pranks are still protected by the First Amendment. And that was the message Frank LoMonte, then-executive director of the Student Press Law Center, relayed to BU’s administration within an hour of the site’s take down: BUnow was protected by the First Amendment.
Lessons in saving your student newspaper, before it’s too late, CJR, (5/1/2018). Be willing to use your political capital, and not just at your alma mater. When student newspapers are being shut down, or when student voices are being censored by administrators, be loud. Put pressure on administrators and donors to show they value the free press on campus. Give to student free speech and press organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Educationand the Student Press Law Center, who regularly step up to fight these battles.
Wyoming’s lack of shield laws explored, The Branding Iron, University of Wyoming, Laramie (4/25/2018). According to the Student Press Law Center website, Wyoming is the only state that does not have either a law protecting journalists from giving up their sources or a state court ruling to do the same. Journalists in Wyoming make promises of confidentiality at their own risk.
OPINION: Know open record laws,The Doane Owl and Doane Line, Doane (Neb.) College (4/25/2018). If you know a document is public record and the holder is reluctant to share it with you, fill out a FOIA request. This is a letter addressed to the documents holder requesting the document and citing the relevant laws that make it public record. The easiest way to write a FOIA request is to use the Student Press Law Center’s letter generator.
Beyond the hashtag: Saving student newsrooms. Frank D. LoMonte, Medium (4/25/2018). The philanthropic community can catalyze this change. Foundations that have invested many millions in journalism since the 2016 election mustn’t forget that the majority of American journalists go to work every day in classrooms and not in newsrooms.
The College VOICE stands with #SaveStudentNewsrooms, The College Voice, Mercer County (N.J.) Community College, Trenton (4/25/2018). Last year Mercer’s administration emailed a mandatory compliance training manual to all faculty and staff that included a demand that, “Employees should not talk to the press without explicit consent from the school.” It was an action that Frank LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center told The VOICE at the time was “pretty illegal” and “raises some very serious First Amendment issues.”
What Would Happen If Students Walked Out Until Gun Laws Changed?TeenVogue.com (4/19/2018). Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have sided with students who choose to protest for minutes or for a day, but there isn’t a precedent for indefinite absences by unknown numbers of students. “That’s kind of where we are with the walkout,” Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel at the Student Press Law Center, told Teen Vogue. “That’s a substantial disruption of school…so this is kind of an exercise of civil disobedience, this is deciding, ‘it’s against the rules, but we think it’s worth doing.’”
Speech policy earns red light rating, Northern Star, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Ill. (4/19/2018). Mike Hiestand, senior legal consultant at Student Press Law Center, said for public schools like NIU it is made clear in courts that vague or broad language is not permissible. He said words considered inappropriate and offensive don’t have any particular legal meaning. “It is not fair to either side really, to the students that are being charged with offensive speech or school officials who are charged with enforcing the rules.”
Newspaper thief confesses to police, The Oracle, Tennessee Tech University, Cookeville (4/17/2018). Copies of The Oracle are free per single copy, however, taking more than one is considered theft, according to the Student Press Law Center. That policy is printed on the front page of The Oracle.
Suspended for Sexual Assault, Readmitted One Year Later, The AS Review, Western Washington University, Bellingham (4/16/2018). The university has found to have committed sexual misconduct, citing FERPA, the federal student privacy law, in spite of a provision in the law explicitly allowing them to do so.Mike Hiestand, the Student Press Law Center’s senior legal counsel, disagrees with this practice. “It seems like Western’s policy now is they’re just not going to provide [that info] and that flies in the face of the intent of the law,” he said. “The law was intended to provide more transparency to these campus disciplinary systems.”
A judge will likely order BYU police to be more transparent, CBS2-KUTV, Salt Lake City, Utah (April 14, 2018). “If a police department has the authority to carry guns, make arrests, it's a no-brainer — they ought to be covered by the same sort of rules of accountability that all police departments are subject to,” the SPLC’s Mike Hiestand said.
OSARP warns student not to speak out on sexual assault case, The Breeze, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. (4/12/2018). “This is starting to become a real problem,” Hiestand said in an email. “Schools are telling students that the law prohibits them from discussing how the university handles their claims. I don’t want to get [too] lawyerly on you, but our opinion at the SPLC is that this is bullshit.
Here’s What We Know About Private-College Police Departments, The Chronicle of Higher Education (4/5/2018). They’re somewhat common, they often have transparency issues, and their quasi-public status means that courts and legislatures must wrestle with the regulations and protections covering officers.
Advice to Students: trust yourself, and your voice, The Observer, Central Washington University, Ellensburg. (4/4/2018). “We follow an editorial policy. If it doesn’t follow that policy, we will not write it,” or “I will have to contact the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) on that matter and can give you an answer after I contact them,” or my personal favorite, “Whether I am a student journalist or professional journalist, I am still a journalist and deserve to be protected from censorship.”
SMU’s Student Media Company to dissolve in May, The Daily Campus, Southern Methodist University, Dallas. (4/4/2018) After an almost-90-year run as SMU’s independent, student-led publishing company, Student Media Company will close its doors in May.
Wintrust conflict of interest remains in question, The DePaulia, DePaul University, Chicago. (4/2/2018). Frank LoMonte, Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida and the former executive director and current senior fellow of the Student Press Law Center in Washington D.C., said that the conflict of interest form could “absolutely be disclosed.”
DTH's public record lawsuit against UNC goes to appeal, oral arguments, The Daily Tar Heel, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (3/20/2018). The Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit that provides legal assistant to college reporters, sent a friend-of-the-court brief to the NC Appeals Court last September, arguing UNC was misconstruing FERPA to public access of the records.
Concord police investigating sexual assault report, Charleston (W.V.) Gazette-Mail, (2/28/2018). “When you see those goose eggs, you do have to ask what's going on with the reporting,” said Mike Hiestand, senior attorney at the Student Press Law Center. “I'm guessing students in West Virginia are no more angelic than anywhere else.”
Can Houston-area students be punished for protesting? Houston Chronicle, (2/23/2018). School administrators can punish students for any protest action that disrupts classwork, involves "substantial disorder" or invades the rights of others. Other types of speech including slander, libel or speech that incites violence also are not protected.
Unaffiliated inserts in last week’s issue of The Record, The Record, College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University,Collegeville, Minn. (2/22/2018). While it isn’t common, SPLC Staff Attorney Sommer Ingram Dean said there are potential consequences of tampering with newspapers.
Can Houston-area students be punished for protesting?Houston Chronicle (2/23/2018) "I think certainly no one would argue walking out of class while school is in session is disruptive and will not be legally protected," said Mike Hiestand, senior legal consultant to the Student Press Law Center ... Hiestand, however, said schools cannot tack on additional punishments because a student is protesting.
What part of state law does WCSD not understand?Reno (Nev.) Gazette Journal, (2/20/2018) The senior legal consultant for the Student Law Press Center in Washington, D.C., Mike Hiestand, weighed in and called WCSD’s decision to control a yearbook’s content as “absolutely ridiculous … Yearbook is every bit as much a journalistic enterprise as a student newspaper or other student media.”
A free press shouldn't stop at the schoolyard, CNN (11/29/17). In an op-ed, the SPLC's Frank LoMonte uses the story of two high school journalists taking on a court's decision to seal a lawsuit file to illustrate the importance of students' press rights.
Restart the presses: Despite challenges, student publications revived throughout mid-valley, Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette-Times (11/19/2017) Mike Hiestand, senior legal adviser at the Student Press Law Center, said he doesn't think the mid-valley's experience with resurrected publications is a trend across the country. "I wish that this were a trend that we were seeing. Honestly, I think this is kind of an anomaly," he said. "Schools tend to be zeroing out budgets, and student media are among the first to go."
GRO removes Technician from impeachment hearing without legal basis, The Technician, North Carolina State University, Raleigh.(9/6/2017). Mike Hiestand, attorney and legal consultant to the Student Press Law Center, sent this statement to Technician via email: "It's certainly a lousy way to kick off the school year,” Hiestand said. “Open meetings laws exist for a reason. They are reflected in the student government's own constitution and they're not optional. You can't just re-write them as you go.
When student journalists need defending, these lawyers swoop in. For free., The Washington Post (6/18/17). Margaret Sullivan, media columnist. Founded in 1974, the center works in a spartan rented office in northwest Washington. The four-member staff, which includes paid interns and law students, not only responds to crises, but also sends a network of more than 200 lawyer-volunteers from all corners of the country to do workshops for student journalists, intended to prevent problems before they arise.
Fake news, real solutions, Medium (12/20/2016). Here’s some non-fake news: More and more states are awakening to the reality that meaningful civic preparation requires protecting journalists against the worst excesses of image-motivated censorship.
U. football crisis: Train wreck of a privacy statute made matters worse, Minneapolis Star-Tribune (12/19/16). In a guest op-ed column, SPLC's Frank LoMonte says FERPA student confidentiality makes no sense when applied to nationally prominent athletes whose disciplinary cases are already a matter of public concern, especially where serious crimes are alleged.
School Bullying, Civic Engagement and the First Amendment in Donald Trump's America, The Seventy Four (11/27/16). SPLC urges caution in resorting to disciplinary action to quell the nonviolent exchange of sharp political disagreements: “If it’s just a spirited exchange of opinions, by all means let’s embrace the teachable moment. You can’t make schools a civics-free zone, and you can’t ban the discussion of divisive political topics if people are going to learn to be participatory citizens.”
Salt Lake Tribune sues, says BYU police should have to release records. Salt Lake Tribune (7/12/2016). "When you voluntarily assume that authority, you necessarily have to accept the accountability that goes with that," LoMonte said. "There is an overriding public interest, never clearer than it has been [recently], in knowing how police use their governmental authority. If you don't want to have state government authority, you can operate a campus security department and ... call in city or county police when an arrest needs to be made."
Student journalist In trouble? Call this man. American University's Voice-Less Project (4/27/2016). Despite widespread attention to campus cultural disputes over safe spaces and trigger warnings, SPLC's Frank LoMonte says administrators' "image obsession" is the biggest free-speech threat on campus.
How One University is Punishing Its Students For Writing About Sex. Jezebel (4/7/2016). Frank LoMonte said administration's censorship of a student newspaper happens often. "There are some really successful high-end programs that are well-supported by their colleges that are doing amazing stuff. And then you've got other campuses where journalism is regarded as an annoyance and a threat to the college's positive image."