Lawmakers kill bill by NBTB alum to protect student press rights in South Dakota

North Dakota protects student press rights. South Dakota does not.

That’s the headline after today’s vote by South Dakota lawmakers to kill a bill by NBTB 2017 alum Gage Gramlick to “provide freedom of expression for students in school-sponsored media.”

Gramlick testified early today before South Dakota’s House Education Committee in support of House Bill 1242. Legislators voted 11-3 to defer the bill “to the 41st legislative day,” a measure that effectively ends further consideration as there are only 40 days in a legislative session in South Dakota.

Opponents of the bill included the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, according to Gramlick. A transcript of the hearing has not yet been released.

North Dakota unanimously passed legislation in 2015 protecting student journalists from censorship, academic punishment or other consequences of doing their jobs. South Dakota does not have such legislation. Gramlick said he intends to re-introduce his bill next year.

In prepared remarks, Gramlick called HR 1242 “a commonsense standard.”

The Student Press Law Center’s state tracker has information on states that do or do not protect student freedom of expression. Screenshot by NBTB staff.

“As I have talked excitedly and frequently about this bill in the previous months to students, teachers and administrators, many have asked me why I chose to bring it forward, expecting me to cite a disappointing anecdote where administration blocks a story of mine. They expected this bill to be a reaction,” Gramlick told lawmakers.

“This is not the case. Rather, I am running this bill because I have faith in the South Dakota public school (system) and because I believe we are ready for the next step: To give students real life experience with journalism.”

Read Gramlick’s full remarks below.—the editors

Testimony of Gage Gramlick to South Dakota Education Committee 

First off, good morning! And thank you for taking the time to listen to our testimony in support of bill 1242. My name is Gage Gramlick and I am the editor-in-chief of the Lincoln High School Statesman, our school newspaper.

Bill 1242 is a commonsense standard for schools to gauge whether or not content is printable.

As I have talked excitedly and frequently about this bill in the previous months to students, teachers and administrators, many have asked me why I chose to bring it forward, expecting me to cite a disappointing anecdote where administration blocks a story of mine. They expected this bill to be a reaction. This is not the case. Rather, I am running this bill because I have faith in the South Dakota Public School Systems and because I believe we are ready for the next step: to give students real life experience with journalism.

As my teachers often say, there is always room to grow. As it currently stands, South Dakota has passed no legislation that protects student freedom of speech, and by extension, no legislation that encourages students’ freedom of speech.

Consequently, there is an environment of uncertainty among student journalists. We don’t know where the line between acceptable and unacceptable lies, because it doesn’t exist. Every time we publish, we risk penalty, we risk our privilege and duty to cover the news, we risk our programs themselves. Bill 1242 clearly delineates what is and is not okay to publish, thus building an atmosphere where students are inspired to write about matters that … matter.

Growing our journalism education is essential. Your support of this bill is an investment in student journalists and thus an investment in the future of our democracy. If we want to see South Dakota’s democracy thrive, we need to develop an educated electorate, which begins with an educated media. Media literally means the middle man. That’s what journalism is: the middle men and women between the world and the people. Strengthening this connection, strengthens our democracy. Bill 1242 does just that.

In addition to proactively fostering positive journalistic practices among South Dakota journalism students, your support of this bill helps every young reader in the state. By allowing students to publish relevant content, we are also giving every student reader pertinent material published by their peers, meaning the content is relatable because it’s written by kids their age. And when kids read about the world around them, they become invested in it. Media literacy increases. Civic engagement increases. And as time goes on, democracy evolves.

Bill 1242 is a commonsense standard. When we pass common sense standards, especially when they pertain to education, we set a baseline for local governments and schools to build upon. We’re saying to administrators, teachers, and students, here is your foundation, here is your tool kit. And from there? Who knows. Maybe we can create the next Tom Brokaw.

Chair members, thank you for your time. It has truly been an honor.

I will stand by for questions. Thank you.

 

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