By Kelcey Caulder, Outreach Intern for the Student Press Law Center
Educational institutions have long played an instrumental role in preparing children for the responsibilities of adulthood, teaching them the ability to be self-sufficient and the skills necessary for civic engagement in a democratic society. With almost 2 million students enrolled in Georgia public schools, no other branch of government offers such regular interaction between citizens and the state.
Schools have an obligation to demonstrate firsthand the importance of constitutional values like free speech. And the best way of teaching these values is by allowing students to use their voices to discuss and question contemporary political issues — the exact speech so many administrators have fought to keep out of schools.
New Voices USA is a movement to provide a pathway for public high schools and colleges to reclaim their duty as teachers of civic virtue by passing state legislation that would give young people the legally-protected right to gather information and share ideas about issues of public concern without fear of administrative retribution.
Eight states explicitly protect students’ freedom of expression. Most recently, North Dakota passed a bipartisan New Voices law last year. U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota spoke on the Senate floor on March 11 about the success of the legislation: "I ... encourage all the members in this chamber to examine what happens at home with students' First Amendment rights, to provide leadership to promote those rights in their state and to potentially look at how we can reverse the Hazelwood decision so that we can grow a more confident, a more educated and a more diverse population for our future."
Heitkamp’s notion that protecting the freedom of expression in schools across the country would foster a more confident and educated electorate is undeniable. The social standards we aspire to have their best chance of taking hold in public schools.
Georgia students deserve the chance to receive a true education in journalism. Our high school journalism programs have the unique opportunity to begin students on a path of success from a young age. Allowing student journalists to speak their minds about issues that concern them, and teaching them how to do so appropriately, should be a cornerstone in scholastic programs where students are being taught, many for the first time, about their rights as members of the press.
We see that when you give students the opportunity to learn best practices while in school, they are better prepared for the futures that await them. And that is why a New Voices bill is so essential in Georgia. We must uphold the standard of excellence that we have already set in place for our journalism students and educators by guaranteeing a safe environment for speech.
The New Voices movement has taken root in about 20 states, with active bills in Missouri, Rhode Island, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska. If you are interested in getting involved with the Georgia campaign, please contact Carolyn Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Kelcey Caulder at email@example.com
New Voices busts common myths about regarding administrative censorship here.
Find more information about new voices and how to get involved here.