Kansas lawmakers seek compromise on student-press bill

Monday, March 16, 1998

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP)–A two-person subcommittee will recommend to the Senate Education Committee whether a 1992 state law should be amended to clarify how much school boards and administrators can dictate the content of high school publications.

Chairwoman Barbara Lawrence, R-Wichita, Friday charged Sens. Laurie Bleeker, R-Great Bend, and Tim Emert, R-Independence, with the task of trying to reach a compromise on the issue.

The Education Committee heard Friday from those who oppose a bill sponsored by Bleeker, Lawrence and four other Republican senators.

The bill would modify present state law to give boards and administrators power to set guidelines that not only require review of material prepared for student publications but also to say that the material may be revised or corrected “to comply with high standards of English and journalism.”

Students and journalism advisers are construing that language to mean increased authority to censor student publications.

Controversies in Great Bend and Ellinwood led to introduction of the bill last month.

Emert was not present for Friday’s hearing, but said at an earlier hearing that he doesn’t think the bill is needed. Also opposing it is Sen. Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, a co-sponsor of the 1992 legislation that is now state law.

It gives administrators authority to review material prepared for student publications and says they can encourage adherence to high English and journalistic standards, but has no language about allowing revision and correction.

Two Lawrence high school students questioned members of the Education Committee Friday on why the change is needed.

“The passing of this bill would be a strong setback in our long history of fighting for freedom and would greatly disillusion young Kansans. …” said Laura Swan, opinion page editor of the Free Press of Lawrence’s new Free State High School.

“I think having the school board or administrators come in and tell me what I can or cannot do is taking away my right to learn what is responsible journalism and what isn’t responsible journalism,” said Dakota Loomis, editor of The Budget student newspaper at Lawrence High School.

“We are wanting to clear up the law … so those people who are required to handle this are sure where they stand,” Lawrence told the students.

Also testifying against the bill were spokeswomen for Kansas-National Education Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Proponents were heard last Tuesday. They said the present law is too ambiguous as to what power boards and administrators have to monitor what goes into student publications.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that school officials can censor expression in student publications as long as they have a legitimate educational reason to do so.