Student journalists and their teachers in California have good reason to rejoice.
Last week Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed one of the toughest laws protecting journalism teachers against unfair retaliation when they stand up for their students' First Amendment right of free speech. Known as Senate Bill 1370, it was sponsored by California State Senator Leland Yee, a champion of student free expression.
"While this law makes the workplace safer for teachers, the real beneficiaries are California's students, who no longer must fear that honest reporting on school events will get their favorite teacher fired," Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte said. "Governor Schwarzenegger and the California legislature should be commended for sending a message to school officials -- in California and across the nation -- that teachers are not to be used as pawns to intimidate kids into avoiding legitimate topics of discussion."
Multiple newspapers came out with editorials supporting the passage of the Bill.
California's new law provides that no public school or college employee may be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against solely for acting to protect a student who is engaged in legally protected conduct. This includes the publication of speech that is not obscene, libelous, slanderous or substantially disruptive to the safe operations of the school, according to the Student Press Law Center (SPLC), a Washington, D.C. non-profit who advocates for free press rights for students nationwide.
"Teachers losing their jobs for refusing to censor their students' news reporting is a real and pervasive problem, and it is going on all too commonly in America's schools," LoMonte said.
More states need to pass laws like California's protecting student rights to free speech and making the workplace safer for teachers. Kansas and Colorado are the only other states with anti-retaretaliations protecting journalism teachers.
The press plays a critical role in a democracy; thus, training high school students as journalists and training the student body to read student publications on a regular basis is important preparation for the real world. California Senator Yee, the legislature, and the Governor are to be applauded for supporting the Journalism Teacher Protection Act.