Monday, June 21, 2010

To hit the brakes, or not to hit the brakes?

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, spoke to teachers Monday about the legal concerns of journalism advisers. He gave an overview of the important legal basics regarding censorship, privacy, and copyright laws, but stressed using good judgment.

“There’s a legal answer and a practical answer” to every situation, LoMonte said.

He likened being a high school journalism adviser to teaching a teen how to drive: you can say “brake,” but try not to actually apply the brakes—thus giving ownership and responsibility to the students.

He encouraged teachers to “censorproof” their programs by forming a booster club of parent, community, and alumni supporters. For example, students from the Conestoga High School student newspaper, The Spoke, have an independent organization, Friends of the Spoke, which is dedicated to defending the rights of student journalists. Students developed the organization after their administration tried to pass a restrictive student publications policy.

The SPLC deals with censorship cases about 60 percent of the time, he said. He encouraged advisers to call in with their situations for advice on how to deal with the “screwy zany policies that we could not even dream up.”

His advice for framing a conversation about censorship: place yourself in a position of being an advocate for the school.

“You want to help your principal avoid a lawsuit,” LoMonte said. He added that the school newspaper is the best medium for a student to express himself: there is he is taught to consider other viewpoints, receives editing, and is required to sign his name.

“The principal has a choice where students can express themselves,” LoMonte said. “If they do it on the editorial page, they are held accountable.”

Kim Vinh

Sequoia High School

Redwood City, Calif.


  1. Kim,

    You caught the best moment! Great picture and thanks for mentioning The Spoke....I wanted to look this up to see what he was talking about. Thanks for the post!

    Alyssa Carnley
    Harrison High School
    Kennesaw, GA

  2. I'm with Alyssa. LoMonte has such a marvelous way of offering examples that make an impression. Having taught several teens (and an older lady) how to drive, the breaking simile struck a cord. I'll be remembering that.

    Nunn Winship
    Warden H. S.
    Warden, Wash.