What is the purpose of the Maryland New Voices Act (Senate Bill 764)?
In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that administrators had the authority to censor the student press under certain circumstances. The ruling, however, gave little guidance regarding under what circumstances administrators might reasonably apply this responsibility. The New Voices Maryland Act is designed to protect the free speech and free press rights of students while clearly delineating under what circumstances school administrators can reasonably apply their right to censor in our state.
The 2015 State of the First Amendment Survey by the Newseum Institute found that only ten percent of Americans know that Freedom of the Press is protected under the Constitution. The act is also designed to encourage the scholastic press to responsibly model the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment to their schools and communities.
When does the act take effect?
The New Voices Maryland Act passed the Maryland State Senate 36-10 and the State House 129-8. It was signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan on April 26, 2016. The law goes into effect on October 1, 2016.
Is Maryland the only state with a Student Free Expression Law?
As of Summer 2016, ten states have passed Student Free Expression legislation similar to the New Voices Maryland Act. Along with Maryland, Illinois passed a New Voices act this year which was signed into law in July. One other state and the District of Columbia include similar protections for student journalists in their education codes.
What does the New Voices Maryland Act say about student rights?
It says that students in Maryland public secondary schools have the right to determine the content of school-sponsored media. It says that they have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in student media and that students may not be disciplined for exercising their rights. It says that under most circumstances, the school system may not exercise prior restraint of student media.
What is “prior restraint”?
Prior restraint is stopping the research, writing, editing or creation of media (for example, ordering a newspaper student to stop researching a story or telling broadcast students that they cannot interview people for a story or complete the edit of a taped report). Generally, where a right by administrators to censor exists, it only allows them to prevent the distribution of censored media to the school.
What does the New Voices Maryland Act say about journalism teachers/advisers?
A student media adviser cannot be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred or otherwise retaliated against for working to protect the rights of student journalists or for refusing to infringe on the rights of students under this law, the First Amendment, or Article 40 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
Further, the act precludes advisers from using their position to influence student journalists to promote an official position of the Board of Education or of the public school.
Are the protections of student speech and press under the New Voices Maryland Act unlimited?
No. The act does not protect speech which is libelous or slanderous; constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; violates federal or state law; incites students to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act; incites students to violate school board policy; or incites students to create a substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.
In their written policies regarding the act, county Boards of Education may limit language that may be profane, vulgar, lewd or obscene, or which has the intent to harass, threaten or intimidate.
What responsibilities does the New Voices Maryland Act create for school systems?
- The act requires that every county Board of Education adopt a written policy reflecting the requirements of the law.
- The act places the burden of proving justification of any act of censorship on the administration of a public school and requires that such justification be provided without undue delay before an action is taken.
(Prepared and disseminated by the Maryland-DC Scholastic Press Association)