Students need freedom, too

South Bend Tribune

Add House Bill 1016 to the list of legislation to die a sad death in this session of the Indiana General Assembly.

HB 1016 was hardly a high-profile bill, but its aim made it well worth supporting: The bill, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would have protected student journalists’ rights.

The measure, which failed due to lack of a constitutional majority, would have prohibited schools from limiting students’ rights to free press and speech unless certain conditions applied, including if the material was libelous, slanderous or violates federal or state law. It was similar to a law that passed in the House by a wide margin last year but failed in the Senate.

Clere noted that some schools already have press freedoms and “it works well.”

“Other schools take the path of least resistance and exercise absolute control at the expense of students and the community,” he said.

The bill attracted broad support, including from conservative and constitutional hardliners as well as some of the most liberal members of the chamber. Others supporting the bill included the state’s public colleges and universities.

Those opposed to HB 1016 included the Indiana Association of School Principals and the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents. Lawmakers who voted against the bill described it as “dangerous.” Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said the bill would erode the authority of school leadership.

“You will have mass chaos in some of your schools,” said Cook, a former school superintendent.

Stephen Key, executive director and general counselor for the Hoosier State Press Association, expressed disappointment at what he called the use of scare tactics to persuade votes against the measure. He noted that there has been no evidence of chaos or fighting in the other states that have similar laws.

Key also encouraged Hoosier student journalists not to give up “on the idea of being able to practice and learn the responsibilities and importance of journalists.”

At a time of rampant “fake news” attacks, it’s never been more important that young journalists understand the power and responsibilities of a free press. They cannot learn such lessons if they operate in fear of censorship from school boards and administrators. House Bill 1016 would have armed them with the protections that every American journalist — whether they’re working at the Washington Post or for their school newspaper — should rightly claim as their own.

HB 1016 has died, but the fight for a free press in Hoosier schools must live on.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].