Legislature to Debate Freedom of Student Journalists

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Thompson Daily Herald State Government Writer

SPRINGFIELD - Student journalists' complaints of censorship prompted a bill now before the General Assembly that would guarantee free speech and free press rights to school-sponsored newspapers and yearbooks.

"I wasn't convinced there was a problem," said state Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishaw, because, in her view, students had protection under the U.S. Constitution.

But then the Republican held a hearing in November in Naperville that drew vocal participation from about 60 students and faculty advisers from across the suburbs. Their comments persuaded her to submit the bill at the behest of Naperville Central High School journalism teacher Linda Kane, president of the Illinois Journalism Education Association, which is made up of faculty advisors.

Kane's involvement was sparked by a 1994 incident in which her principal barred the student newspaper from publishing a list of school officials who attended conferences at taxpayers' expense.

"When you have student journalists learning to put out a student newspaper, it teaches them a very poor civics lesson if you turn around and tell them what they can and can't say," said Valerie Phillips of the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports the bill.

There is a difference between students and professional journalists, countered attorney Brian Braun, who represented school boards and administrators on a committee Cowlishaw set up to study the issue.

If readers don't like what they see in a professional newspaper, they can cancel their subscription or advertising, or in extreme cases sue for libel. …