If the churches cared for the poor then the government would save trillions over the years. But the churches ceded that...

State needs law to restore student press freedom


Cartoon by Dave DiFilippo for The Wilson Times


Friday, January 12, 2018

Investigative reporter Carl Bernstein learned journalism fundamentals at his high school newspaper. But today’s teenage scribes are more likely to learn lessons in censorship than the kind of dogged reporting that exposed the Watergate scandal.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of a deeply flawed Supreme Court decision, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, that stripped high school students of press freedom rights. A 5-3 majority ruled that administrators, not student editors, control the content in school-sponsored publications.

The watershed case turned gutsy, innovative student newspapers and yearbooks into bland house organs for schools run by risk-averse principals who prefer public relations to genuine journalism. Censorship became the rule, not the exception.

Prior to the 1988 Hazelwood case, student publications enjoyed broader First Amendment rights under the 1967 Tinker v. Des Moines ruling, which balanced individual liberty with public schools’ need to maintain safety and order, allowing officials to intervene only to prevent “substantial disruption.”

The Tinker standard still applies to general student speech in public high schools. A T-shirt bearing a political message would have the Supreme Court’s stamp of approval, but that same message could be grounds to reject an opinion piece in the school paper if the principal doesn’t like it.

A now-infamous case of yearbook censorship brought the glare of cable news spotlights to North Carolina last May when Richmond Early College High School in Hamlet refused to distribute the annual because it contained senior quotes including “Build that wall!” with attribution to Donald Trump.

Folks can dislike the student’s choice of senior quote but agree that a high school graduate of voting age should be able to endorse a sitting U.S. president’s stance on border security without the so-called adults in the room snatching everyone’s yearbook away in a snit.

High school journalists live under a cloud of repression thanks to the Hazelwood decision and its misapplication by the courts. The ruling allows school officials to step in only to address “legitimate pedagogical concerns,” but education is rarely if ever the reason for interference.

“Since Hazelwood, court after court has given school censors the benefit of the every doubt — even where there is no possibility that the students’ speech could harm anybody,” the Student Press Law Center wrote in a 2012 analysis.

Stakeholders know that censorship isn’t a lesson worth teaching the next generation of Woodwards and Bernsteins. That’s why the Journalism Education Association has partnered with the SPLC to support a campaign that would protect student speech at the statewide level.

Legislation already on the books in 13 states restores the Tinker standard of student expression in public high school student media, according to New Voices USA, which is promoting model legislation in 16 other states.

North Carolina doesn’t have a New Voices bill yet, but last May’s censorship controversies show one is sorely needed. Having enacted a sweeping law to protect students from unconstitutional speech codes on University of North Carolina System campuses last summer, legislators can turn their attention to the hostile climate for free speech many of our K-12 public schools are fostering.

Supported by the nation’s journalism educators, New Voices doesn’t give high-schoolers free reign to peddle smut or publish falsehoods. Teachers will require mastery of best practices, and under the Tinker standard, administrators could still intervene in limited circumstances.

We are proud to join a long list of press freedom advocates, First Amendment groups, journalism collectives and professional education associations in endorsing the New Voices movement.

Seizing yearbooks and vandalizing them with black ink is a stain on our state. North Carolina lawmakers can put the brakes on high school censorship and teach our students worthwhile lessons about freedom and responsibility by passing a New Voices bill this year.

The Wilson Times


Humans of Greenville


Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.


October 23, 2018

A disturbing Associated Press report shines a light on what happens to immigrant children separated from their parents and forced into foster-care settings mandated by the U.S. government. In a small number of cases, foster-care networks have yanked permanent custody of young children from their…

Immigration The Battle For Alexa-3

October 22, 2018

After Hurricane Florence and Tropical Storm Michael left their trails of death and destruction across North Carolina, it’s time to clean up, repair, help those in need and move forward. But it also should be time to think about what environmental lessons these powerful storms leave behind.…

Tropical Weather

October 21, 2018

The first day of early voting would seem to telegraph the message that this year’s mid-term election has generated a lot of interest in the direction of our government at every level and in the individuals who voters are looking to for leadership.

Many important issues, from taxation to…


October 20, 2018

With the controversy of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claims to be part Native American still swirling through the political atmosphere, it is important that we hear the voices of actual Native Americans.

They’re not too thrilled. Native American groups say they’re tired of being a…

Elizabeth Warren Heritage Trump-4

October 19, 2018

The most impressive statement to make about Sears as it seeks bankruptcy court protection is also the most damning: Sears was the Amazon of its time.

Impressive because Sears really was that influential long ago. Damning because the company’s decline wasn’t preordained. Sears could have…

Sears Chapter 11

October 18, 2018

Hurricane Florence turned the Cape Fear River into more of an open sewer than it already was. The heavy rains and flooding added human waste, livestock waste, industrial waste, petrochemical runoff and other hazardous substances to a river that was already profoundly compromised by the waste…

Tropical Weather-Toxic Sites-1

October 17, 2018

Saudi Arabia, so far, has tried bluster and bullying to silence the questions about journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. On Sunday, a regime statement threatened to "respond with a larger action" to any sanction stemming from the case; Saudi-…

US Missing Writer

October 16, 2018

This has been a banner season for punishing white-collar crime. Guilty pleas by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former longtime personal lawyer, and criminal convictions and additional guilty pleas in the case of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort have drawn enormous attention.…

Trump Political Fallout

October 15, 2018

Nearly three dozen administration officials have left or been forced out of key posts since President Donald Trump was sworn in last year. Few, if any, will be missed as much as Nikki Haley, who announced her resignation as United Nations ambassador on Tuesday.

For a former South Carolina…

Trump Haley-2

October 14, 2018

It’s the kind of anniversary no one wants to remember. A year ago this past Friday, four inmates at Pasquotank Correctional Institution beat to death four correctional employees in a failed escape attempt.

The brutal murders on Oct. 12, 2017, coming on the heels of the vicious murder of a…

100 stories in Editorials. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 10
        Next Page»   Last Page»