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On behalf of Americans for Prosperity activists across West Virginia, I urge you to oppose HFA Foggin 3-4 #1 for SB 121. This vote may be recorded in our 2023 session legislative scorecard.
In 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that student journalists are not covered under the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech, allowing school officials to censor student media. The purpose of SB 121 is to ensure that student journalists and their work, under direction of media teachers and advisers on school-sponsored media, are protected by the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press. The bill does not protect expression that is libelous or slanderous, constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy, violates state or federal law, or that would incite students to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act or a violation of school policies that would cause a material and substantial disruption.
HFA Foggin 3-4 #1 would remove high school student journalists from provisions within SB 121 that protect the free speech of student media. While perhaps well intentioned, the amendment would ultimately have a chilling effect—particularly in cases where student journalists are shedding much needed light on public school administrators.
In light of recent trends across the country in which public school officials have likely acted outside the boundaries of what many parents consider to be foundational education, it is important that student journalists are able to hold public school administrations accountable, particularly in the high school setting. HFA Foggin 3-4 #1 would pull the rug out from under student press seeking to inform their communities about what happens in public schools and empower school administrators to silence speech that calls out decisions and practices they wish to fly under the radar of students, parents, and educators.
It is for these reasons that I ask you to vote against Delegate Foggin’s Amendment and, in doing so, ensure that public high school media can hold their school officials accountable.
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