Teachers from across U.S. learn about legal issues in journalism

Jennie Barr

Censoring in school districts does not work, according to the executive director of Student Press Law Center, who was the keynote speaker at a conference for high school journalism teacher hosted at Kent State.

“When you get done with these two weeks here, the smartest ‘lawyer’ in this building will be you,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center on Tuesday, July 8, while presenting to the Kent State American Society of News Editors of Reynolds High School Journalism Institute.

This two-week course is a collaboration of 32 high school journalism teachers from across the U.S. to gain a hands-on experience in student media. Participants will receive three graduate credits or six continuing education units.

LoMonte discussed freedom of the press, censorship, invasion of privacy, and prior review in the FirstEnergy Auditorium in Franklin Hall.

“Legally, if the government does something to you, whether they take away a right or a privilege, or something to you that is to punish you for speech or deter you from speaking, it is a violation of the first amendment,” LoMonte said.

The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions regarding private school connection with the First Amendment, children’s pictures being posted online and online publications in schools.

There is only ever one question when studying the law of the first amendment, LoMonte said, and that is where do you draw the line?

“The Supreme Court located the line at ‘substantial disruption’ in the case (Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District),” he said. 

As LoMonte talked about the topic of invasion of privacy and censoring, he said that censoring just does not work.

“When people censor, the main reason they want to censor is to protect image control,” he said. “They want to project a positive image to the public.”

LoMonte said the law is protective of the rights of journalists, including the young ones. When schools censor, the discussion does not stop, it is relocated.

“Students are going to go online and make their own publication,” said LoMonte.  “They just move the discussion to social media.”

Irene Arholekas, journalism teacher at Queens Academy in New York, said that what LoMonte covered was a much-needed refreshment to journalism teachers. 

“Everything that he said, I’m going to take it back,” Arholekas said.

The original 2001 proposal to bring ASNE Reynolds High School Journalism Institute to the university was written by associate professor for School of Journalism and Mass Communication Candace Perkins Bowen.

“Well, we are hoping they get a really solid foundation from a legal standpoint to know their rights and responsibilities and their students rights and responsibilities,” Perkins Bowen said. 

Perkins Bowen said she wants the teachers to go back to their schools with a new toolbox of knowledge and skills.   

“Under the law, generally speaking, if a kid does something in a place where it is open to public in any way, where they put themselves at risk of being seen by strangers, then a photograph of that person is not an invasion of privacy or an invasion of any legally protected right,” said LoMonte. “It is the photographers photo to do what they want with it.”

Contact Jennie Barr at [email protected].