Know your history

One of the first steps you can take towards New Voices legislation is getting to know the history of student free expression in your state.
As mentioned on the home page, I had the good fortune of partnering with John Tagliareni who is a retired journalism teacher, Executive Board member (and past president) of the Garden State Scholastic Press Association, and a current member of the JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee. He began the fight for student free expression legislation shortly after the Hazelwood decision in 1988. John worked with Mark Goodman who was then Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center.
Tagliareni described the legislative process in New Jersey in 1988.
“The bill began in the NJ Assembly with bipartisan support,” he said. “The bill, A557, and eventually, A575, was passed by the assembly but failed by a narrow margin in the senate. We were encouraged by Governor James Florio’s support. He was our keynote speaker at our GSSPA Press Day at Rutgers University, at the time. He said he would sign the bill when it got to his desk, so the defeat was very disappointing.”
Tagliareni also noted the opposition that they encountered back in 1988.
“It is also important to review the various challenges from organizations such as the New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Press Association, the New Jersey Supervisors and Administrators Association, and The Record, a powerful northern NJ newspaper,” he said. “Eventually, the opposition changed to support, ironically, from the supervisors, after Mark [Goodman] suggested changes to the bill. I also got at least a neutral position from the other groups, rather than opposition. The details are important because these groups would again have to be convinced to support any new legislation.”
Even without opposition, the bill ultimately didn’t receive enough votes in the senate. But as Tagliareni found, New Jersey already had strong student rights protection due to the State Constitution and the decisions in two State Supreme Court cases.
“While we were disappointed by the bill’s defeat, at the time, Mark [Goodman] explained that we also had probably the strongest state constitution in the country, specifically the affirmative wording of Article I Section 6,” Tagliareni said. “As Mark explained, the wording was in the affirmative and could be seen as giving a greater degree of protection than the U.S. Constitution. This was confirmed in the Desilets v. Clearview Regional Board of Education case. The student won at every level and was a precedent that can be used in any press rights challenge.”
In addition to this case, the Hazelwood standard was denied as justification in a 1992 case, Salek v. Passaic Collegiate School, which involved a yearbook photo that embarrassed two married teachers.
“This case was interesting because a teacher sued the school claiming that the administration should have invoked Hazelwood  to censor the students,” Tagliareni said. “The teacher was offended by a photo and caption, but the judge ruled that it was an obvious parody and ruled for the school.”

Still, while these protections existed for over two decades, we were also aware of how schools ignored or were ignorant of these precidents. That’s why the teacher protection provision of our bill and the requirment that districts change their policies to be in accordance with the new law are so important.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *