Whitney Update

Filed under OPINION, Showcase

Editors stand up for student expression under California Ed Code 48907

The Whitney High Student Media editorial board poses with past publications Jan. 30. Photo by Renese Lopez

The Whitney High Student Media editorial board poses with past publications Jan. 30. Photo by Renese Lopez

The Whitney High Student Media editorial board poses with past publications Jan. 30. Photo by Renese Lopez

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As a student-run program devoted to telling the stories of our student body, our staff members have posted stories this week about wrestlers, broadcast anchors and basketball players as well as reader-relevant topics like video games, podcasts, the Golden Globes and new music releases.

At the same time, we’re in the early reporting stages on stories surrounding vaping, teen pregnancy and illness. Sadly, student journalists at other schools don’t have that opportunity, even if they know the topics are important to the readers they serve.

To connect with a national Day of Action today in a movement called #CureHazelwood, we want to educate our readers on the student expression protections from the First Amendment and California Ed Code 48907 — along with what that means to Whitney High Student Media.

Ed Code 48907, established in 1977, is unique to California, compared to national rulings such as the Supreme Court ruling Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988), which limited high school students their right to the freedom of speech. In other states, administrators can prevent student publications from covering certain topics. But in California, students are protected by law with the right and responsibility to make their own content decisions, meaning we decide what to write about, photograph and/or report for our publications rather than being censored or restricted by teachers or administrators. As students in a public high school in California, we are guaranteed the free expression rights that the First Amendment established.

“Knowing I have [48907] to back me allows me to have the confidence I need when I want to tell stories that matter. When a teacher was arrested for coming to campus intoxicated last year, I knew the campus needed the facts and that the administration wouldn’t [release information or discuss it with students], so I found the facts from police documents, reported on it and wrote a story to benefit our readers. This is incredibly important, because our readers know that we will cover the topics that matter, no matter how controversial. Because of the state’s education code supporting student expression, it is our right to report on the topics that affect the student body as a whole,” editor-in-chief Madilyn Sindelar said.

Sometimes the stories generate controversy, and addressing that with our readers is part of the process.

“I don’t think covering only the good on campus is the program we want. Our staff wants to highlight the reality of our school and breaking news, so it is important for our staff to get information out timely and correctly. I value choosing what I write about because it gives me a way of telling anyone’s story for them, and censoring our voices won’t allow us to tell the school what is happening on campus or the world. Having our First Amendment protections allows us to inform the readers,” editor-in-chief Lizzie Salvato said.

Students from media programs around the country are speaking out today about the stories they want to tell and why they benefit from the ability to do so.

“It is extremely important that as journalists we are backed up by the First Amendment and have the right to cover the controversial topics of our school and community without fear of being censored by our administration. When the popular Netflix Original, “13 Reasons Why,” came out back in March 2017, that show was all students (and even parents) were talking about. Suicide can be an extremely sensitive topic for anyone who has or has not lost someone close to them, but I made the decision to tackle this delicate story because whether we like to admit it or not, people do commit suicide. It has happened at our school and it has happened in our community. Although the district or school administration may attempt to cover it up and pretend we are simply a happy community, the heartbreaking stories are equally as important as the heartwarming ones, and the First Amendment gives me the power to share those,” editor-in-chief Britney Flint said.

Being able to report on important events happening around us is something Whitney High Student Media takes seriously, including this year’s stories on racism and sexual harassment.#CureHazelwood

Editor-in-chief Danica Tran said, “Our story on the #MeToo movement in the December issue of The Roar provided me the opportunity to use my voice to empower all women, but especially those at our school. Many times, when we see controversy on the news, we don’t think it applies to our town, our school, our life, when in reality our community simply mirrors the news we see at the national scale. Interviewing victims of sexual harassment during the story writing process was incredibly rewarding for me, as many of the girls expressed their appreciation for the story. As they were uneasy with reporting or addressing the harassment themselves, we provided them with the ability to share their experiences in another way. All those stories need to be heard, whether it makes people uncomfortable or not. After spending almost four years in our media program, I am now comfortable utilizing my First Amendment rights to write about topics I feel passionately about, but I am always trying to encourage others to do the same.”

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The student news site of Whitney High School in Rocklin, Calif.
Editors stand up for student expression under California Ed Code 48907