Staten Island students rally in Albany for bill to protect school journalists

March 14, 2023

Originally published in on March 14, 2023.

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A group of Staten Island student journalists traveled to Albany last month to make their voice heard on a new bill that would protect them from censorship and retaliation.

Students from Curtis High School, St. George, spent the day upstate during Advocacy Day 2023 on Feb. 28, to share their support for the Student Journalist Free Speech Act, a bill that would protect student journalists in New York State.

The legislation would protect them from administrative censorship, which means it would prevent school officials from saying what can and can’t be published or broadcast in student media, and allow students to serve their readers and uphold journalism ethics by reporting on news that matters. The bill would also protect journalism teachers and advisors from professional retaliation for content produced by students.

It was created by the coalition New Voices New York and is sponsored by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-Endicott) and Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), and a combined 46 co-sponsors between the New York Assembly and Senate.

Genevieve Lopez, a photojournalist at Curtis, was a student speaker in support of the bill. She noted she is “allowed the freedom of speech and expression” at her high school, but there are many schools in New York State that don’t allow the same.

“There are many schools in New York alone where students and teachers are silenced for speaking out on topics deemed inappropriate or damaging to the image of the school,” Lopez stated during her speech. “Oftentimes these students and teachers are silenced for no reason other than their school doesn’t like what they’re saying.”

While students have the right to speak out, hand out flyers and petitions, and wear expressive clothing at school, a 1988 case found that school administrators can censor student journalists’ work if it’s related to pedagogical concerns. The vague standard has led to decades of censorship of student journalists, according to New Voices New York.

“It is important to me that this bill be passed, because I feel that by allowing students the freedom of speech without fear of repercussions you give them a space to open up a conversation about real-world issues that are perhaps troubling or uncomfortable and allow them to try and fix those issues,” said Lopez during her speech. “I believe that censorship breeds ignorance, and ignorance prohibits change. School should be a place where students can learn and grow, and by talking about potentially taboo topics students are able to ask questions and form their own opinions on those topics.”

Students also met with several state legislators to rally and request support for the bill, particularly in the Education Committee. The committee would need to put the bill on its agenda and move it to the Assembly and Senate floors for a vote.

The students were in charge of fully preparing for the Albany meetings.