Rights Reinstated: How one signature affected Illinois student journalism

Gayu Menon, News Editor

On July 29, after months of campaigning, Illinois state legislators passed the Speech Rights of Student Journalists Act into law. This public act restores Illinois to the “Tinker Standard” after 28 years under the rulings of the US Supreme Court decision of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.

After Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeirer was ruled, publication for public school students changed. The ruling found that students do not necessarily have the same rights as professional publications. If the school had a problem with any specific piece, then the administration had the ability to censor it if a valid reason was presented.

The Act now licences students to have freedom of expression, regardless of how much support the school provides. This can involve the financial aspect or the publication aspect as well. Students will be responsible for determining what is needed and not needed in each issue and will take full responsibility for their writing. Students have to consider and respect school policies, and will not be protected by the Act if they are unlawful.

“The state has made it possible for scholastic journalists in public schools to practice their craft in the most ethical way possible,” Lecturer of Journalism at Lake Forest College Stan Zoller said. ”The students are responsible for their stories with the limited guidelines that are given.”

Due to an increase in prior review restraints for the Omega over the past several years, it was important to the staff to have the Act pass.

“Honestly, the hardest part of getting censored was the communication aspect of it. The superintendent and administration are not in the building and will not be available at all times. Anytime we had to discuss anything or go over quotes it had to be through email which slowed down the process,” Omega Editor-In-Chief Natalie White said. “A lot of miscommunication took place when it could have been avoided, and this also left room for inference and tone that was sometimes not the way one person was intending for the other person.”

Now, students in Illinois will be able to express their writing freely without having to worry about censorship.

“Having dealt with issues with censorship in the past, it is absolutely amazing that this bill was passed,” Omega Editor- in-Chief Abbe Murphy said. “We spend so much time learning about how to follow journalistic standards and now we can put them into action.”