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Illinois Journalism Teachers Now Protected From Retaliation Under Law


Illinois journalism teachers are now protected from being fired or disciplined in retaliation for what their students publish in the school newspaper.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a new law on Friday that protects high school student journalists' right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored publications, regardless of whether the publication is paid for by the school district or produced as part of a class.

The law also stipulates that a journalism adviser "shall not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against" for protecting student journalists' right to publish content protected by the law. (Protected content is not libelous, disruptive of school activities, a violation of state or federal law or of school district policy, or an invasion of privacy.)

College journalists in Illinois were already legally protected. The legal protection for high schoolers and their advisers passed through the state legislature with bipartisan support in May. Now that the bill has been signed into law, it goes into effect immediately.

In April, Maryland journalism teachers received the same protection when the governor signed into law a similar bill, protecting both high school and college journalists, and their advisers, from censorship.

Illinois is the 10th state—joining Maryland, North Dakota, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Oregon—to have a law or statute protecting high school student journalists' free speech rights. Only four of those—Maryland, California, Kansas, and now Illinois—explicitly protect journalism teachers from retaliation, according to the Student Press Law Center, a journalism nonprofit that tracks anti-censorship laws. 

There's currently a bill pending in the New Jersey legislature that would also protect journalism teachers from retaliation, as well as students' free speech and press rights.

It's not uncommon for high school journalism teachers and student-media advisers to fear retaliation from school administrators when their students publish a controversial story. Advisers often feel torn between the desire to protect and defend their students, and the need to keep their job.

In 2008, according to the SPLC, an Illinois veteran teacher lost her journalism duties at her school after publicly defending her students' use of profanity in a newspaper article and their decision to publish a newspaper spread on marijuana use. The teacher was allowed to remain at the school to teach English, but she was removed as adviser of the school newspaper, a position she had held for 19 years—and because of that, lost a part of her salary, which also affected her pension.

And in 2004, an Illinois journalism teacher was fired from his adviser position, while keeping his other teaching responsibilities, because he didn't ask for administrative approval before publishing a story about local teenagers going to strip clubs on their 18th birthdays in the student newspaper.

Source: Image by Flickr user E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, licensed under Creative Commons

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