Student journalists testify at Capitol for press rights


Angela Glass

Senior Bethany Bissell testifies before the Public Education Committee. Bissell has been a student journalist for six years.

Mylo Bissell, News Editor

About 40 students and advisers from across Texas gathered at the Capitol on April 4 to support a bill that advocates believe would protect student journalists, advisers, and administrators.

The students were there to ask the Texas House Public Education Committee to approve HB 2244, which is modeled after laws that have been passed in 14 other states. These laws are aimed at clarifying student press rights.

Student press rights activists contend that the Hazelwood decision has enabled school administrators to censor student journalists from writing about legitimate topics of interests when school officials consider those topics too controversial or unbecoming of the school’s reputation.

For senior Bethany Bissell, editor-in-chief of the Eagle’s Eye, an incident at Prosper High School in North Texas lead to the realization that other students in other parts of the state do not enjoy the same level of press freedom as she did at Akins.

“I hadn’t really considered the fact that I had been taking my status as a free student press organization for granted until I heard about things that had happened in Prosper and Frisco and that our standard of operation wasn’t universal,” Bissell said.

At Prosper High School last school year, student journalists were censored repeatedly by their principal, banned from writing editorials and their faculty newspaper adviser was forced to resign because of the conflict with the administrator.

Bissell has worked all year, with the help of Prosper senior Neha Madhira, to organize people in a movement for free student press.

“Working with students from across the state and seeing people speak passionately about this kind of legislation…has been really empowering and energizing,” Bissell said.

Madhira began working on passing a New Voices law in Texas.

“I feel like nobody really cares about it until it happens to you and that’s why I think it’s so imperative in Texas,” Madhira said.

Bissell and Madhira both testified in favor of the bill to the committee. Texas Association for Journalism Educators Board President Margie Raper said that the success of the hearing comes from the student involvement.

“You can tell (the committee members) have a heart for kids,” she said. “It is a student-driven legislation while everything else they are probably working on is money driven.”