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High School Journalists Fight for Their 1st Amendment Right to Report on Their School's Administration

Student journalists at a Vermont high school had a damning article censored by their interim principal.

|||Screenshot via https://bhsregister.comScreenshot via https://bhsregister.comA Vermont high school guidance director was recently charged with six counts of unprofessional conduct. On September 10, student journalists with the Burlington High School Register reported that the charges against Mario Macias, their guidance director, included falsifying information on a student transcript, intimidating employees, and revealing sensitive information of a student's traumatic past in the presence of a third party. They also included a copy of the charges filed against Macias via the Vermont Agency of Education. Though Macias was the apparent wrongdoer in the situation, the school sought to limit the student journalists who broke the story about their administrator.

According to a report in the Burlington Free Press, the co-authors of the story, Halle Newman, Nataleigh Noble, Jenna Peterson, and Julia Shannon-Grillo, reportedly tracked the information based on a tip from another student. Just one day after publishing it to their website, Burlington High School administrators had the story unpublished. Interim Principal Noel Green censored their voices because the students were told, according to Newman, that it "created a hostile working environment for Macias." However, the students maintained that they were merely reporting facts contained in a public document.

The students contacted the Student Press Law Center, which confirmed that the students' actions were legally protected. The Vermont Press Association and the New England First Amendment Coalition also released a joint statement demanding that Green and the administration release and publish the story.

The story appeared on the website following the joint statement and mass reporting about the unpublishing. However, both the students and their adviser were informed that the school would revert to a 2016-2017 school policy that required each story be reviewed by an administrator "48 hours before publication."

However, the Burlington School Board acted quickly to overrule Green in order to remain in compliance with Vermont's New Voices Act. The law was passed in 2017 to protect student journalists' First Amendment right to publish material in public school and college-affiliated media without fear of censorship or retaliation.

"All previously practiced or adopted guidelines regarding publications in the BHS Register are no longer in effect," the board said in a statement. "The Burlington School Board, together with its administration, will exercise its jurisdiction under Vermont's New Voices law, codified at Vermont Statutes, Title 16, Section 1623(i), to adopt a written policy consistent with the provisions of the New Voices law. The New Voices law is intended to ensure free speech and free press protections for public school students in order to encourage students to become educated, informed, and responsible members of society."

Additionall, the board promised that future policies would include the input of student publications and "local First Amendment experts and organizations."

Photo Credit: Screenshot via https://bhsregister.com

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

  • Just Say'n||

    They don't sound like they're cut out to be journalists. Journalism is all about censoring your own stories to conform with status quo talking points.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    The school admins are dreaming if hey think they can stop anything. School won't let them publish in their rag? Ok, just distribute it digitally. I'm sure it isn't difficult to get a fairly comprehensive email list to distribute anything they want. Or just do it through one of the social media platforms.

    The days of schools censoring much of anything are long past. If anything, this should embolden the stud nets in question to be even more aggressive with their stories since the gloves will be off.

  • General_Tso||

    Or...plant a gun-shaped pop tart in one of the student/reporter's backpacks.

  • Mark Question||

    Smells like a #MeToo witch hunt to me. Notice that they are all women? Should show you right there there's more to this story then the crypto-leftists in Reason want you to know.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Why waste time at a libertarian site that will rile you? I sense you would be much happier at FreeRepublic, Breitbart, Stormfront, or RedState.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    And I sense Arty needs his nappy changed again.

  • Mark Question||

    Because in the heart of any honest libertarian is a patriot crying to get out. They just need the moral and intellectual courage to realize that strict adherence to libertarian principles will not bring about prosperity and freedom but rather the opposite.

    I went down the pipeline and became a fascist. It's great. Better sense of humor over here. People who actually are willing to stand up to the Marxist and the Mexican (unlike libertarians, who'd rather wring their hands over these awful peoples "freedoms"). People who realize what capitalism is good for and what it's not good for. People who understand that there are more important things then freedom and prosperity.

    Go back to your third world shithole, Art. If you really cared about liberty, you'd be right here with me fighting against it.

  • BYODB||

    Umm...if it's a right to let any student say anything they want in the school paper (or online student paper, whatever) I look forward to articles that just endlessly repeat the word 'fuck' about 1500 times. Seems legit.

  • John||

    If these little darlings have such important things to say, why don't they just publish their own newspaper? If the school started punishing them for that, that would be a problem. But the idea that a school can't control the content of a newspaper it pays for because of the 1st Amendment is absurd. And the fact that reason considers this case worthy of its limited time and column inches is pretty pathetic. If our biggest problem is little snowflakes in Vermont not getting to write what they want in the school newspaper, the Libertarian moment has truly arrived.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Agreed and I thought the law was obvious here- the school has the absolute and right to say what makes it in the school paper as it only exists through the use of school funds/resources.

    So this isn't a violation of free speech in that they never had the right to say anything the wanted using another entities' resources.

    If they had their own website or printed it and shared copies (without interfering with school work) and the school punished them, that would be a violation.

    But this is not.

  • John||

    The only way the school can get in trouble here is if it doesn't enforce the rules uniformly. If for example, they let kids write editorials in favor of Republicans, they can't then come back and tell kids who want to write them for Democrats no. But they absolutely can have a rule that says "you are not covering school administrative business" which is what they seem to have done here.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Good point, though I would assume they'd have a blanket policy of "not writing about teachers and administrators even if true" as they'd likely kill a story about a teacher's DWI as well.

    Though given how poorly things like school newspapers are thought out, it wouldn't surprise me if they don't have that policy, but it's obvious they should as they wouldn't allow it.

  • Mickey Rat||

    In most circumstances that would be true, but the article states that the state legislature passed a law that limits the authority of the school administration as publishers to quash a story.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Sorry - failed to RTFA, though my assumption would be the law would have be unenforceable vague as someone has to make the call and it's doubtful they want the state legislator doing so.

    But yeah, if they have lwl@talx.com specifically designed to disallow this, that would be a problem.

    But it's still not an a front to freedom of speech as speech is free.

  • BYODB||

    A wiser kid would have submitted this story to the local paper as an editorial. See, that way they might have actually landed a job.


    In most circumstances that would be true, but the article states that the state legislature passed a law that limits the authority of the school administration as publishers to quash a story.

    I suppose that is indeed a valid point, even if it's a dumb one, but it's absurd to think a school is a publisher since ultimately the only reason there is a student paper is to teach students about journalism. Seems that these kids actually got their dollars worth out of their public school for once.


    However, the Burlington School Board acted quickly to overrule Green in order to remain in compliance with Vermont's New Voices Act. The law was passed in 2017 to protect student journalists' First Amendment right to publish material in public school and college-affiliated media without fear of censorship or retaliation.

    Logically speaking, it would behoove schools to now cut out student publications entirely. Because, you see, they are not required to offer one in the first place. That's how incentives tend to work out, unfortunately.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "but it's absurd to think a school is a publisher since"

    If the school is not the publisher of the school paper, why should they have any control over it's content at all?

  • BYODB||

    No, that wasn't the point. The point is that the 'student paper' isn't a news paper, but rather a school project. That is, of course, merely my opinion to be clear.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Yes, and they can pay for their own football so that they can decide their own policy regarding kneeling during school football games. Then they can pay for their own classrooms and hire their own teachers so they can decide on their own curriculum. This guy gets it.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You should be interested in what these students are doing, John. They will be your children's betters, forging American progress against the wishes and efforts of the next generation of right-wingers.

  • Last of the Shitlords||

    *Yawn*

    That it?

    Odds are the little leftists will be asking people, if they want fries with that burger.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Watching America's liberal-libertarian alliance effect progress while disregarding your objections throughout your lifetime has made you a cranky, disaffected, irrelevant right-wing loser.

    This pleases me. Get ready for more.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I don't always agree with what you say, but I admire your dedication to pounding your forehead against a cinderblock wall for an hour every day before you post on H&R.

  • John||

    I would admire your complete dedication to stupidity and ignorance Hugh except that it is hard to admire someone for something that seems to come so naturally to them.

  • Just Say'n||

    Vietnam, man, right on. I'm trapped in the 1960's too, Hugh.

  • TuIpa||

    I admire your dedication to your shit-flinging sock.

  • Uncle Jay||

    Well, these little shits should learn at an early age that censorship is the American way.
    Writing articles that depict their obvious better who oppress them only damages morale and produces hurt feelings among the ruling elites.
    We cannot have this.
    The kids should be writing flowery articles about acceptance, tolerance and freedom in our society instead.

  • Conchfritters||

    Little shits: LOL!! 100

  • Drig||

    Is "Additionall" the stuff they give you when "Adderall" stops working?

  • SQRLSY One||

    "Additionall" is the corporation that one perfumes in odor to inducktively de-duck that 2 + 2 = 5!!!!

  • SQRLSY One||

    'Interim Principal Noel Green censored their voices because the students were told, according to Newman, that it "created a hostile working environment for Macias." '

    If Der TrumfenFuhrer commits blatant red-handed murder tomorrow, and I report it, can I be BUSTED for "creating a hostile working environment for "Der TrumfenFuhrer" ???

    Inquiring minds want to KNOW, dammit!!!!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Well, regardless of where one stands on the issue, there's one thing Barbra Streisand can agree on...

  • Vernon Depner||

    The school newspaper belongs to the school, not to the students. The administrators and board of the school are completely within their rights to restrict what may be published in it. End of story. If the students want freedom of the press, they need to get their own press.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The Vermont legislature and governor have concluded that Vernon Depner is an authoritarian goober whose preferences are to be disregarded.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Apparently it's more enlightened to have the government dictate to the owner of the printing press what is to be printed.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Ask a libertarian, or a college graduate, to try to explain this for you.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Question, was Cody Wilson anywhere near the high school during this kerfuffle?

  • Vernon Depner||

    Will no libertarians stand up for the rights of high school sex workers?

  • sharmota4zeb||

    There are some lines I won't cross. While studying in the library today, I learned that it is forbidden to pay for sex using something that was normally sacrificed on the Temple Mount. That means, taking your date out for dinner at an avant-garde restaurant for some whole roasted pigeon is out of the question. Obviously, we're supposed to have a separation between sex and state. They can't become sex workers until they start attending Hillsdale College. ;)

  • Eddy||

    As commenters noted, there's no 1st Amendment issue here, but there's an issue of the school failing to obey the state legislature, which has made a decision that school papers need to be to a great extent autonomous.

    Which in this case, apparently, means they can publish details about a public document.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Good for them for sticking up for their rights and not backing down.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    In related news, Vermont has a program to pay people working in internet publishing to move there, because they have trouble getting adults in the industry to live in Vermont.

  • Don't look at me.||

    ....because they have trouble getting adults in the industry to live in Vermont.

    FTFY

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    When I was in high school in the very early '80s, a friend of mine was on the school paper and had similar post-All The President's Men delusions of being an investigative reporter. He was periodically frustrated by his inability to get approved his articles on the obscene salary of the district Superintendent (at the time among the highest in the country, in an only moderately large and pretty middle-class district) and other such "hard news". That the faculty advisor of the paper was probably suffering from Alzheimers and seemed to hallucinate on occasion merely compounded his frustration.

    But however much "The Man" may have been keeping him down, the fact was that most of the student body really didn't care. So far as they were concerned, the school paper was a place for articles about the school's sports teams, and perhaps some coverage of charitable club activities or the school musical. He seemed to imagine that if he could just get The Truth out there, outrage and mobilized action would follow, rather than indifferent yawns.

  • dinkster||

    Glad there is a policy to enforce the policy in the Bill of Rights. After all, it was written by slave owners 200 years ago.

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