Getting Started

This website is not the first attempt at providing a blueprint for passing scholastic press rights legislation. 

In 1996 Bruce L. Plopper conducted a study of the 28 attempts that had been made to that point.  In “A synthesis model for passing state student press legislation,” Plopper made four major recommendations:

  • Gain widespread support from a variety of journalism and education organizations
  • Choose a sponsor with certain characteristics  – an experienced Democrat with background in teaching and media
  • Arrange testimony from a variety of sources to demonstrate support and lack of opposition,
  • Develop a network of proponents who will call and write to legislators throughout the state at critical junctures

In February of 2016, the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee published “Promoting Scholastic Press Rights Legislation: A Blueprint for Success.” It describes the process in eight steps: develop a core group, find a sponsor, draft bill language, build a coalition, find legislative allies, introduce the bill, contact legislators, and attend the committee hearing.

The publication also contains talking points, sample legislation, and a sample news release.  In the conclusion, the JEASPRC admits that the publication is just an introduction. “Much more can be said, and other states may have vastly different experiences.” It is the goal of this website to provide our experiences in New Jersey.

Finally, New Voices USA gathers news, resources, and helps document the efforts of every state that has or is attempting to pass legislation. This site will be linked to the New Jersey Campaign on New Voices USA and some of the material here may also be posted there.

Jumping on the civic education bandwagon

Since the presidential election, there have been numerous articles renewing the call for civic education and news literacy. Here are three articles that were published in the three-week period following the election: Earlier and more often: Washington teachers seek broad boost to civics education from The Seattle Times, Now or Never for Civic Education from U.S. News and World Report,  and Is Trump’s Victory the Jump-Start Civics Education Needed? from The Atlantic.

New Voices legislation can, and should, build on the momentum building for changes in education that promote students to develop civic responsibility, ethics, and the ability to evaluate news sources. There are few better outlets for this than student media outlets and classrooms.

Consider the following quotes from the news sources linked above:

“Knowing the three branches of government and how many stripes are on the flag doesn’t teach you how to be a citizen, how to participate and be a critical consumer of the news,” said Anthony Jonas, a social studies teacher in Bellevue who co-chairs the Washington State Council for the Social Studies. “I’d like to see kids evaluating politicians and what they’re doing, and applying knowledge — not just memorizing facts from 240 years ago. This feeling has been bubbling for a while, but the election really pushed people to see that education can’t just be all about STEM.” (Rowe, Seattle Times).

“Public schools are failing at what the nation’s founders saw as education’s most basic purpose: preparing young people to be reflective citizens who would value liberty and democracy and resist the appeals of demagogues. In that sense, the Trump phenomenon should be a Sputnik moment for civics education. Just as Soviet technological advances triggered investment in science education in the 1950s, the 2016 election should spur renewed emphasis on the need for schools to instill in children an appreciation for civic values and not just a skill set for private employment.” (Kahlenberg and Janey, The Atlantic)

Yet in recent years, democracy has been given short shrift in American public schooling in two important respects: the curriculum that is explicitly taught to students does not place democratic values at the center, and the “hidden” curriculum of what students observe on a daily basis no longer reinforces the importance of democracy. (Kahlenberg and Janey, The Atlantic)

In addition to these recent articles, Catherine Ross’ book Lessons in Censorship: How Schools and Courts Subvert Students’ First Amendment Rights, also provides talking points for how student free expression is vital to the development of civic values.

“Teaching students how to experience differences of opinion and respond to controversy is part of education’s civilizing function. Worries about ‘controversies’ are nothing more than the ‘mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint” (102).

“In constitutional terms this experimentation is not only about free expression; it is a part of the quest for autonomy, for a meaningful life reflecting one’s own individual values” (288).



Creating a Student Chapter

One way to get students involved in the legislative process is by using your state’s scholastic press association.

Early on in the process. the Garden State Scholastic Press Association‘s Board recognized the benefit of creating a Student Chapter. Not only could this student-led group help support and raise awareness of student free-press legislation, but they could create a network of student journalists who could help and support one another as well.

We began recruiting for this new group through our conference in the Fall of 2014. This conference draws over 700 students from across the state, and although we only got about 30 students who expressed interest, we did end up with a core group of students who were prepared to work hard on this. After communicating with them through e-mail, we set up a Facebook group for them and had our first chat in January of 2015.

After communicating with them through e-mail, we set up a Facebook group had our first online chat in January of 2015. This was followed by another chat is February in which we set up criteria for creating leadership positions for this group. To apply as an officer, students needed to create a post in the Facebook group explaining what they would bring to the group. They also were required to demonstrate how they were supporting or raising awareness of student free-press legislation (through pieces in their school newspaper or through letters to the editor).

In this first year, two leaders emerged who would run online chats, come to some board meetings and plan Student Chapter sessions for our next fall conference. Lilia Wood, a senior at Glen Rock High School, was the group’s first president and Malaika Jawed, a junior at South Brunswick High School, was the first vice-president. Their leadership was instrumental in the success of the student chapter. They conducted monthly online chats and were able to organize members, largely through the Facebook group, to contribute to a video on censorship. They presented this video during the first student-run session at the GSSPA’s fall conference.

In one year, they established this group and used the conference to help it grow. Lilia Wood received a certificate at the conference for her efforts, and she was later named the 2015 New Jersey High School Journalist of the Year and winner of the Bernard Kilgore Memorial Scholarship. Strong leadership is important in establishing a student group, and we were fortunate to have a student with passion and leadership skills as our first president.