A bill that would have extended First Amendment press freedoms to Indiana middle and high school students died in the House Monday.
The vote was 47-45 in favor of House Bill 1016, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, but the bill failed because it didn’t get the required 51 votes needed for passage.
Clere said that more than a dozen other states provide protections for student journalists, and the bill would also extend safeguards to teachers and administrators.
“I assure you this is not Lord of the Flies,” Clere said, trying to pre-empt arguments that the bill, if passed, would lead to chaos in public schools. “Under this bill, schools retain a high level of control. In fact, they would still have near, total control, but not absolute control.”
Clere said that HB 1016 provides a framework for students, teachers, administrators, and others.
“At present, there is no such framework, which results in very different experiences for students and school entities throughout Indiana,” he added.
Clere’s bill received broad support from students, school officials, the state’s public colleges and universities. But it ran into fierce opposition from school officials, including the associations representing principals and superintendents.
Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, called the bill an over-reaction to situations in which student journalists were censored by school officials. He argued that most school administrators have positive relationships with their school newspapers.
But granting student journalists the protections that the HB 1016 called for would “erode school corporations and the corporations before them,” Cook said.
Similar to Cook, Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, said the bill would jeopardize student safety, adding that the bill lacks a basic understanding of the dynamics of a school environment.
“There are reasons we do not extend full constitutional rights to children. They lack the basic brain development that they need,” she said.
Currently, middle and high school student journalists are governed by a 30-year-old U.S. Supreme Court case that allows school administrators to exercise absolute control over student publications.
Rep. Edward DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, argued in favor of passage, saying students need to be encouraged, and that they did not suddenly become naïve about the controversial issues that surround them.
“Indiana is prime state for free speech and free press, and I hope we can extended that to our younger people,” DeLaney said.
Similar legislation failed in the 2017 legislation when, after passing the House by a wide margin, it never got a vote on the Senate floor.
Quinn Fitzgerald is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.