Landmark free-press law for student journalists passes Illinois House of Representatives

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

A civil liberties bill introduced by State Representative Will Guzzardi (D-39) passed unanimously out of the Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday and will now face a vote in the Senate. The bill, known as the “Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act,” guarantees protection from censorship to high school publications. The bill responds to several cases in which high school student newspapers and individual journalists were prohibited from publishing stories because administration objected to the critical nature of the content.

Presently, administration has broad authority to restrict the publication of content in student-run media. Under this bill, the only stories that could be censored are those that are libelous, contain hate speech, violate privacy laws, or incite students to disrupt the orderly operation of the school. The bill is part of a national trend, as nine other states have enacted similar statutes. Guzzardi, himself a former professional journalist and high school newspaper editor, noted that students should be encouraged to think critically about their school and community.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Education

“Every day in student newspaper classes around the state, students are learning the best practices of fair and balanced reporting. Sometimes their stories are critical of practices in their school, but that’s no reason those stories shouldn’t be run,” Guzzardi said. “The student press is the incubator for future journalists, social scientists and reformers,” Guzzardi added. “If we want a healthy public debate, we need the next generation to know that it’s not only okay but encouraged to challenge authority and think critically about the world around them.” Sen. Daniel Biss (D-9) is the bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate.

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