Who can I contact with questions about student expression and scholastic journalism?

  • Iowa High School Press Association
    (319) 335-3455
  • Quill and Scroll Foundation
    (319) 335-3457
  • Journalism Education Association (785) 532-5532
  • Student Press Law Center (703) 807-1904
  • Q&A Student Expression in Iowa

    What Can an Administrator censor in a student publication at an Iowa public school?

    Iowa is one of six states with a law specifically protecting the First Amendment Rights of student journalists. In 1989, one year after the U.S. Supreme Court's Hazelwood decision gave school officials greater censorship power, the Iowa legislature passed "An Act Relating to Student Exercise of Free Expression in the Public Schools." this law created Iowa code section 280.22, defining and regulating student expression in "official school publications" in Iowa.

    According to this code, public school officials may censor expression in school publications in only this instances:

    1. The expression is obscene.
    2. The expression is libelous or slanderous.
    3. The expression encourages students to "commit unlawful act,"violate lawful school regulations" or "cause material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school."

    Why shouldn't an administrator get involved with censorship or prior review?

    Prior review of a school publication often leads to censorship, which can be illegal and inhibits students' understanding of the First Amendment. Censoring a school publication can also make the school liable for the publication's content. The Iowa Code states that student publications do not reflect the school publication and that the district officials and employees are not liable, unless they have altered the content of the student speech (and then only to the extent of the alterations)

    How should the chain of command in a school publication work?

    Student editors should assign and edit the content of their publications. Advisers should "supervise the production of the student staff, to maintain professional standards of English and journalism" and to comply with Iowa law, according to Iowa Code section 280.22.

    Does this make the students liable for the content of school publications?

    Students can be sued for libel, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement, and occasionally they are, according to the Student Press Law Center. Students need to know that the freedom of the press comes with responsibility.

    What else does Iowa law require?

    The board of directors of each public school should develop a written publication code, including provisions for the time, place and manner for student expression -- content restrictions are limited to the instances of obscenity, libel, and encouragement of illegal or substantially disruptive activity, as previously described. This code should be available to students and parents.

    What are the qualifications of a good journalism adviser?

    Advisers need desire and spirit to improve a school publication. Advising generally lasts all year, not just one season, requiring long hours, especially as deadlines approach.

    Advisers need excellent writing skills and the ability to help students improve their own writing skills -- not to mention familiarity with layout, photography and journalism ethics. Candidates who don't have this breadth of knowledge should be willing to acquire it through mentoring, additional classes or internships.

    Advisers need deicationand optimism to deal with the chaos that can surround creating and publicashing a school newspaper, magazine or yearbook.

    Harry Proudfoot and alan Weintraub, the journalism adviser and dean of Westport (Mass.) High School, respectively, offered these suggestions in their 2001 principal leadership article.

    What does an effective journalism program need?

    A strong journalism program needs to be authorized to sell advertisements. Ad sales help students understand the financial issues facing the media today, and they supplement the program's budget.

    Journalism programs also need access to up-to-date equipment and software if students are to produce quality publications and gain the skills that will serve their professional and academic careers.

    Journalism courses can best convey sill, knowledge and application to students, while preparing them to the school's newspaper and/or yearbook.

    Like any other student activity, journalism programs need understanding. Basketball players miss crucial shots, band members miss cues and student journalists are bound to make mistakes. These mistakes should be viewed as tools for learning, not as reasons to discontinuing publication.