A public school’s educational mission is to prepare students for citizenship in American democracy. In order to do that, all students should be afforded the opportunity to exercise all the rights the Constitution of the United States grants and guarantees to all of its citizens.
Public schools in the United States must concern themselves with more than just facts and figures. The education system must promote the use of constitutional freedoms by students so that they may learn to cherish and respect freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
Alaska should follow the state of Hawaii as the next state to adopt a New Voices statute. As citizens of the United States, schools have a collective obligation to protect freedom of press for students, and New Voices legislation is the best way to accomplish that.
The proposition would first recognize that Alaskan students may exercise their right of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. Since student expression operates within the jurisdictions of school districts, students must adhere to the professional standards of American journalism.
As such, this provision requires that there be a working faculty-student relationship. Faculty would be restricted from exercising prior restraint, but they are authorized to deny student publication they deem to be the following: obscene; defamatory; threatening; provocative to insurrection; or in clear violation of school policy, local ordinance, or state and federal law.
In recent years, the United States has been plagued with waves of civil unrest that have opened up old wounds and sparked social movements.
The Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) gave student journalists the means to post messages on social media platforms (e.g., Twitter and Instagram) condemning racial injustice. The rise in Asian xenophobia gave student journalists the initiative to publish newspapers discrediting misinformation. These demonstrations of free speech draw parallels to Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), where the Supreme Court ruled that prohibition against the wearing of armbands in public schools, as a form of symbolic speech, violate students’ freedom of speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Speech manifesting as newspapers or posts addressing societal issues is the same as protesting through symbolic speech. New Voices legislation seeks to empower students in advocating for their deeply held beliefs and values by contributing them to the pool of American democracy. Through New Voices, students are provided with the space to articulate their thoughts and emotions, engage in stimulating conversations, and take ownership of their personal convictions.
Through this proposition, students learn to appreciate the value of speech and exercise them with integrity.
If a school’s mission is to prepare students to be a positive contributor in society, how can they truly express themselves if their ideas are censored? For student media advisers, this is an opportunity to help students develop the tools necessary to produce quality work and to coach them in a manner where they are not afraid to make mistakes and more importantly, learn from them. Granting more editorial freedom to students in cooperation with academic advisors helps demonstrate a school’s commitment in promoting students’ success and upholding their constitutional rights as citizens.
A New Voices law in Alaska would beneficial for all students and public schools. Censorship and preconceived censorship that students face when they are not allowed to write about possibly damaging topics hinder their learning experience and limits their independent voices.
The role of journalism is to inform the general public and to share stories that matter to community interests, which cannot happen without laws that protect the rights of free speech and free expression.
The First Amendment is intended to protect all citizens from government actions that restrict free expression, which directly goes against the censorship of sensitive and controversial issues (e.g., politics, racism, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.). With a New Voices law in place, it would open a space for accountability where students feel confident enough to be heard fully and honestly.
Charlotte Flynn, Tyson Gilbert, Rafael Isaiah Pascual and Callum Toohey are students in Communications Law at the University of Alaska Anchorage.