The Ballard Talisman

Bill to protect student free speech passes in Washington State

Legislation protects school-sponsored media from administrative censorship

Proponents+of+Senate+Bill+5064+stand+outside+the+Washington+State+Capitol+with+the+bill%27s+sponsor+Senator+Joe+Fain+%28R-Auburn%29.+%28Joe+Adamack%29
Proponents of Senate Bill 5064 stand outside the Washington State Capitol with the bill's sponsor Senator Joe Fain (R-Auburn). (Joe Adamack)

Proponents of Senate Bill 5064 stand outside the Washington State Capitol with the bill's sponsor Senator Joe Fain (R-Auburn). (Joe Adamack)

Proponents of Senate Bill 5064 stand outside the Washington State Capitol with the bill's sponsor Senator Joe Fain (R-Auburn). (Joe Adamack)

Oscar Zahner, Political Correspondent

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Teachers, activists, and student journalists gathered in Olympia on Wednesday as the governor signed a bill that made Washington the fourteenth state to protect student media from administrative prior review.

The bill was the latest success for the “New Voices” movement to combat the restrictions on the freedom of student press imposed in 1988 by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The bill, which was sponsored by Senator Joe Fain, makes student editors responsible for their content, rather than the school. This makes students responsible for the legal ramifications of the media they publish, but also means administrators can’t claim responsibility to edit content being considered for publication.

New Voices legislation seeks to mitigate the harsh restrictions imposed on student free speech by the Supreme Court in the 1988 decision on Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. The Hazelwood precedent allows administrators to review and censor a school paper before publication in any instances “reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Senate Bill 5064, Washington’s New Voices bill, protects student speech from administrative censorship except for in cases of legally unprotected speech (e.g. libel), speech violating any FCC rules, and cases in which speech provably commissions violent or unlawful acts or activity posing a clear threat to the orderly operation of the school.

Students deserve a chance to investigate and write stories that are relevant to them without wondering if their work will be censored,” said Senator Joe Fain, the bill’s sponsor, in a press release. “This new law, which was passed because of the engagement and advocacy by students, significantly strengthens journalism education in our state.”

Although the Talisman was never subject to extensive prior review before the bill became law, the legal precedent for censorship existed. Other high schools in Washington State have been subject to extensive administrative censorship. Perhaps the most notable example was Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup, where the administration heavily scrutinized the content of their paper, the JagWire, after the publication of a controversial article about oral sex.

Under the new law, papers like both the Talisman and the JagWire are granted first amendment protections like other, non-school-sponsored media.

The bill passed the state senate with bipartisan support, just as it had last year. In its most recent incarnation, the bill made it through the House Education Committee with slight alterations, despite the fact that it had been killed there the year before. Afterwards, it passed the house with a vast majority of the vote, and the slightly revised version passed the senate. The legislation goes into effect in June.

When signing the bill, Jay Inslee gave Ballard High School a personal acknowledgement. “I’d like to give a special thank you to the Ballard Beavers,” he said, reminding the audience that his father was a Ballard alumnus.

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Bill to protect student free speech passes in Washington State