How I Exercised My Rights as a Student Journalist
The six-year struggle to pass the Hawaii Student Journalism Protection Act ended in triumph in 2022. Also known as the New Voices bill, Hawaii’s then-governor, David Ige, signed the bill into law in my high school auditorium with members of the state legislature, my journalism advisor and peers in attendance. As a student journalist and the editor-in-chief of The Pinion, President William McKinley High School’s newspaper, I helped spearhead the passing of the act, which allows public high school and university students to exercise their First Amendment rights. It also protects students from censorship and their advisers from retaliation for refusing to limit student press rights.
I am fortunate that my high school principal understands that newspapers are essential, and he is aware that high school journalists will abide by journalism ethics. Last year, I wrote articles in The Pinion about a controversial proposal for my school superintendent to remove President William McKinley’s statue and to rename the school because the annexation of Hawaii during McKinley’s term was seen as an illegal overthrow. Many alumni of my school, who have deep pride in the traditions of their alma mater, adamantly opposed the proposal. For the second year in a row, the Hawaii State Legislature rejected the resolution to rename McKinley High School and remove the statue of President McKinley on the oval.
My increasing awareness of free speech as a U.S. citizen motivated me to submit oral and written testimony for the Hawaii Student Journalism Protection Act. I also called upon my state representative, House Speaker Scott Saiki, to introduce a resolution to urge the Hawaii Superintendent of Education to safeguard the name of McKinley High School to honor the McKinley High School’s 132 fallen soldiers, who valiantly served our nation with resolution and moral rectitude in World War II.
Publishing these articles in my student newspaper allowed for controversial yet crucial discussions and increased my understanding of the importance of student press rights. However, there are other high school students in Hawaii who have experienced resistance from their administrations for articles that might negatively affect their school's image. The 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court ruling states that the administration of a school can censor student articles if the stories are not consistent with the schools' educational mission and can restrict students’ ability to select topics and share their opinions.
To build support for the New Voices bill during the 2022 legislative session, my peers and I scheduled Zoom meetings with other high school newspaper staffs to inform them of the importance of the bill and the process on how to testify for both in-person and online hearings. We learned from the students that most of them were required to show their articles to their school’s administration prior to publishing, which often led to self-censorship. Upon learning this, the passing of the bill became even more crucial to establish free press rights for all student journalists, to oppose censorship and to eliminate students’ fear of retaliation.
During my spring break, I also visited the Hawaii State Capitol to share with the members of the education committee the importance of the New Voices bill. I scheduled a meeting with the chair of the judiciary committee, who happened to be my district senator, to discuss the bill's purpose and advocate for its floor consideration. Throughout the session, our class monitored the Hawaii State Capitol website to track the bill and to stay up to date on the scheduled public hearing. We submitted our written testimony and asked to testify in person. At the hearing, we presented our views in front of the committee and we answered questions.
Our rights as student journalists to share our stories and opinions are essential. Legislation like the New Voices bill guarantees student journalists’ constitutional right to free speech. Our school newspapers are a vehicle for democracy to carry the thoughts, opinions and stories of young people. Without protection of student press rights, those stories would never be told.
Shane Kaneshiro is a 2023 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference alum representing Hawaii.