Approved by NCTE Members Voting at the Annual Business Meeting for the
Board of Directors and Other Members of the Council, November 2016
Ratified by a Vote of the NCTE Membership, February 2017
NCTE members passed a resolution in 1989 encouraging state legislators, state departments of education, and school districts to promote legislation that protects students' rights to free speech and a free press. The resolution’s background noted that while the 1988 US Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier allowed school administrators to censor student newspapers, magazines, and performances on grounds of "legitimate pedagogical concerns," the decision nevertheless allows state laws to take precedence over the Supreme Court ruling, thus creating an opportunity for proponents of free speech to defend students' rights.
For more than 25 years, Hazelwood has had a negative impact on scholastic media because administrators often go far beyond “legitimate pedagogical concerns” when it comes to censorship. The ruling has had a chilling effect on students’ ability to develop critical thinking skills, learn to question authority, and join in the discourse of a democratic society. Only through learning to make their own content decisions do students become better writers, thinkers, and doers.
Between 1988 and 2007, only six states – Massachusetts, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, and Oregon – passed legislation protecting student journalists. California had such protection in its education code already, and Pennsylvania, Washington, and the District of Columbia added free-expression regulations through administrative agencies.
More recently, North Dakota’s John Wall New Voices Act was enacted in 2015, Illinois’s governor signed its bill in July 2016, and Maryland’s law was approved October 1, 2016. No fewer than eighteen states have similar legislation in process. As this wave of bills moves forward, it is important for all educational leaders to support such laws to ensure students engage in an education that will enable them to participate in a democratic society. Be it therefore
Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English
- urge state legislators to pass laws protecting the rights of students in their exercise of freedom of speech and press; and
- advocate for legislation at all levels that supports both student journalists and their audiences to participate in a democracy through civic engagement.