Proposed policy could restrict student journalists’ rights

District board members propose new policy, which could censor student publications.

The first reading of a new district policy was done at the Shawnee Mission School District board meeting on Monday, June 24. The proposal would give the school and district the opportunity to restrict student publication, including the printing of controversial subjects – an important aspect of journalism in general.

A portion of the policy reads as follows:

“The District retains the right to exercise control over publications and activities that appear to represent the school and its students. The District/school may limit controversial subjects if the District/school is sponsoring the speech, such as with student publications, if the content would substantially disrupt the ability of the District/school to perform its educational mission or is used to engage in bullying, cyber-bullying, the intimidation of another person or the material is obscene or libelous.”

This proposal violates the Kansas Student Publications Act of 1992, which provides students to have the same rights as professional journalists – the aforementioned ethics and standards – and allows them to have the freedom to report what is important without restriction from administration. Additionally, the act states, “…no adviser or employee shall be terminated from employment, transferred, or relieved of duties imposed under this subsection for refusal to abridge or infringe upon the right to freedom of expression conferred by this act,” which would protect student media advisers from any repercussions from content by a student publication.

Student publications should be and are held to the same ethics and standards as professional journalists. The Patriot aims to provide true and accurate information, avoiding libel and not using their voice to engage in bullying of any kind. Doing so would violate the ethics of professional journalism – the high standard to which high school journalists are held to. However, allowing the District to have any control over student publications is a very slippery slope. Allowing the district to control the student free press is not only dangerous, but it is also illegal.

The new policy was drafter after an event at Shawnee Mission North in 2018. Following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas Highschool, schools across the country held walkouts to protest gun violence. However, an administrator at Shawnee Mission North took cameras from student journalists to prevent coverage. The district settled the lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union on March 5.

The leading editors of The Patriot and The Heritage, the newspaper and yearbook of Shawnee Mission South, disapprove of this proposal and request a significant revision. No SMSD journalism students or advisers were consulted or informed of the new policy.

The second reading is on Monday, July 8 and will be put to vote on Monday, July 22 at the Center of Academic Achievement. We encourage all student journalists, parents and supporters of free press to attend both meetings and express their concern.

Story updated June 25, 2019.