Bill would protect K-12, university students free speech rights

The Senate Education Committee last week recommended passage of a bill expanding and protecting the rights of K-12 and university student journalists to free speech.

Senate Bill 420 was introduced by Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, who said the current standard in Nevada essentially allows teachers and school administrators to censor student journalists from printing anything critical of the school or its administration.

She said her bill states that those free speech rights are protected, “unless they are libelous or creates a clear and present danger of substantial disruption.” Cannizzaro said similar legislation has been passed in 10 other states and is being considered in several more.

“It’s to protect from the feeling of being chilled when they want to publish something that might be critical of the administration or to talk about uncomfortable topics,” she said.

That issue was raised by Lauren Draper and Lahontan Valley News Publisher Steve Ranson who got into a battle over an article she wrote for her paper in Fallon about students being withheld from a music competition she called “Choirgate.”

She said she felt afraid and that her rights were being “chilled.”

She said many students and their media advisers aren’t as lucky as she was to have support that allowed her article to be published.

Ranson said he and his newspaper backed her and that the case was ultimately dismissed.

Reno High School student Taylor Pittman said it’s important to be able to discuss controversial issues and not be censored, issues such as terrorism, racism and police brutality.

“The voices of students should not be silenced, they should be encouraged,” she said.

But Sen. Scott Hammond, one of three lawmakers who ultimately voted against the bill, said he was concerned the measure would create an exemption to a teacher’s right to shut down protest and control the classroom. Hammond is a teacher.

“There is a reason why we have limited certain rights to students in school,” her said. “You do not have the right to say certain things.”

SB420 was approved 5-3 with Hammond and fellow Republicans Don Gustavson and Becky Harris opposed.

The measure will see some potential amendments including one to ensure that not only Nevada school districts but the university system develop procedures and policies implementing the bill.


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