Mirador Explains the Rights of High School Publications in CA

Spencer Hardwick and Dylan Kronenburg, Directors of Sleighing

High school journalism law and ethics are two very different things. Like the comparison of apples to oranges or Riff Raff to Macklemore, they may fall into the same broad category, but at the same time have important differences. First, let’s define ethics for the small minority of the Miramonte student population that cheats on their vocab tests. The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines ethics as rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad. Now, this definition allows for many different interpretations of ethics based on your own moral code. The Merriam Webster online dictionary then defines law as the whole system or set of rules made by the government of a town, state, country, etc. Because the Mirador resides in California, the state of California has established laws which must be enforced by the student editors along with the advisor’s support.
Journalism ethics for the Mirador are derived from the National Scholastic Press Association. Their main points are to “Be responsible, Be fair, Be honest, Be accurate, Be independent, Be accountable, and last but not least, Minimize Harm.” In summary, we as a paper want to represent the facts, and not mislead our readers about what they may represent. Furthermore, we understand that some of the content of the paper may be controversial and even anger some readers, but this should not discourage us from publishing. Basically as a paper, we cannot always be in agreement with everyone, but what we can promise is to present factual information that represents the views of our readers and writers in a way that will not libel anyone. These ethics are not only the basis for high school journalism, but should be the ethics for people in their everyday lives if they are good, law-abiding, members of society.
The rights given to Mirador staffers are derived from two significant court rulings, the Hazelwood Supreme court ruling and the Leeb V. Delong case.
Hazelwood is officially called Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and dates back to the late 80’s. The school newspaper in question, The Spectrum, at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, Missouri, published two risque articles, one concerning divorce and another concerning teen pregnancy. The principal of the school removed the articles which prompted the student journalists to sue based on the violation of their First Amendment rights. The case moved through the court system, eventually making its way to the Supreme Court, and after five years the school won the suit which led to a precedent for the nation. The Hazelwood school officials could restrain student publication that goes against the basic educational mission of the school.
The Hazelwood case restrains student journalists by not granting them their full First Amendment rights when they walk onto their campus. The school has the final decision about what articles get published, which can lead to only articles that align with the views of the administration being published. Furthermore, administrators can censor any article that may be considered controversial because they don’t want backlash coming to the school. In this way of thinking, high school papers that are restricted under this ruling are often forced to focus on issues that carry little to no weight in the community, dumbing down the paper and limiting its readership.
The best part about the Hazelwood case is that California doesn’t recognize it. California Education Code 48907 shields California from the Hazelwood case and lets high school newspapers publish whatever they wish as long as it is not explicitly obscene, libelous, encourages dangerous behavior or breaking laws or school rules on campus, or causes substantial disruption to school operations. The word “obscene” pertains to the offensive or disgusting description of sexual acts or decency, by accepted standards of morality and decency. The definition of “libel” is a published statement that is false and damaging to a person’s reputation.
Furthermore, the Journalism Teacher Protection Act, which was passed in 2009, protects journalism advisors in the case that a controversial article is published. As long as the article in question does not violate California Education Code, they are not allowed to censor its publishing, and neither is the administration. Unfortunately, before the passage of this law, school administrators were able to come down on advisors as a de facto way of censoring articles, but now advisors are protected.
In fact, the final decision is held in hands of the editors of the paper, students who are elected to their position in the Mirador’s case. It is their job to decide what should and should not be published, regardless of possible sensitivity surrounding the issue. As long as it does not violate the law, they can choose to publish whatever the writers put forth.