By Ryan Gunterman
IHSPA Executive Director
They deserve better than this.
Hoosier student journalists and their teachers deserve better than what the Indiana House of Representatives did to them the evening of Feb. 5. They deserve better than the fear mongering by the associations representing principals, superintendents and school boards while lobbying those legislators. They deserve better than to be told the most-important 45 words in U.S. history apply to everyone but them, that they are second-class citizens.
What they deserve is for “New Voices” HB 1016, protections for student journalists, to be law.
They deserve to see their state values them, and their ideas, as a part of their communities and democracy as a whole. However, that’s not the message delivered from those running their government and schools.
Students heard Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, tell them mass chaos and violence would occur if they were given the rights granted to the rest of the public. He told them censorship isn’t really a problem, and their pleas for freedom from suppression were based off a couple rare instances of prior restraint.
It didn’t matter 13 other states have passed similar legislation and survived. It didn’t matter that more than 180 years of combined case law has yet to find a school liable for student expression in those same states. It also didn’t matter that the Indiana High School Press Association was working on five separate censorship cases when Cook told his colleagues it wasn’t happening.
That’s what he told them.
Students then heard Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, tell them they lacked the brain development to properly use the First Amendment. She told them they needed to only model the behavior exhibited by the adults in their lives, doing otherwise could result in the deterioration of the school environment.
It didn’t matter that examples of the professional press depending upon the reporting of college and high school students can be found in nearly every state. It didn’t matter that scholastic journalists have improved their communities by addressing problems ranging from opioid abuse to underage drinking when school officials and legislators were unable, or unwilling, to do so.
That’s what she told them.
Finally, students heard Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, tell them their request to be treated equally is an effort “to make the school look the same way as these people that write about the fake news on a daily basis.” He told them administrators must have the final say in the editorial process, even though students and advisers have more experience in the field than anyone within their school.
It didn’t matter separate studies by the University of Kansas and Indiana University have shown those in scholastic journalism are better students and citizens than their peers. It didn’t matter that Indiana teachers are required to earn a journalism certification before teaching the course that instructs future reporters on how to avoid being “these people that write about the fake news.”
That’s what he told them.
Cook, McNamara, Morris and the other 43 representatives who voted against HB 1016 sent students this message, inaccuracies and all, because it’s what principals, superintendents and school boards told them to do. Why else would the very same politicians who approved similar legislation 88-4 in 2017 prevent its passage merely a year later?
It might have something to do with the fact that last year administrative associations didn’t begin lobbying against the First Amendment until New Voices, then HB 1130, had moved out of the House and into the Senate. Once those groups did begin their campaign of scare tactics and myth distribution, the bill was never called to a vote and died.
Student journalists and their teachers didn’t deserve it then, either.
No, what they deserve are advocates such as Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, who co-authored the legislation in 2017 and 2018. What they deserve are the tireless efforts of the Hoosier State Press Association, Indiana High School Press Association and Indiana Collegiate Press Association.
What they deserve are principals such as David Clark of Columbus North High School, who told the House Education Committee a free student press is what’s best for everyone within the school community. What they deserve is someone like Plainfield High School student Anu Nattam, who stood up to legislators because she is unwilling to accept her school administrators’ suppression.
What Hoosier students and teachers deserve are leaders who will stand up for them, not against them.
Instead, they got the Indiana House of Representatives.
They deserve better.