Silencing Student Opinions

State law, Supreme Court censors student voice on bond and other issues

Editorial Board

Conroe ISD will hold a bond election on May 4. Currently, students of Caney Creek High School, we cannot voice our opinion about the election in the only place we have guaranteed: the school newspaper thanks to a one-two punch from a state law and Supreme Court case.

CISD administration sent an email to staff in late February saying no opinions on the bond could be written – for or against the bond – including in student newspapers. This includes not just editorials and opinion pieces, but also quotes including any opinion from any faculty or staff as to how the bond projects would help or hurt the school. All this to say: if we hated the bond, we couldn’t say it. If we love the bond, we couldn’t say it.

State law prevents use of school funds for electioneering, which makes total sense. This bond election will affect students, good or bad, as we are just as part of this school as the buildings are and what this bond is all about. We think student newspapers should be an exception to the electioneering law so long as it is student-led.

While school districts have to enforce this law, we want to, more broadly, be able to freely express opinions not worrying about the school censoring and changing our stories. School districts have the right to alter or even throw an entire story away if they even have a reason – no matter how small. They have this leeway thanks to the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court case, which ruled schools can censor their students if it is “reasonably related to a legitimate pedagogical purpose.” While Conroe ISD has given us and others in its high schools great freedom in its publications, which we appreciate, the fact all school districts are able to so heavy-handedly censor student voice is appalling.

Pedagogical means relating to education; so what part of censoring students helps education?

Schools are places where you are meant to be intellectually challenged, make solid arguments, and advocate for ourselves once we graduate. They are seen as places for debate and coexistence of ideas that can be tested to help the belief grow. Our school newspaper is a guaranteed place where we can go to express our opinions and beliefs. But when a major vote about what is happening to our area, our school, comes up, we can’t express our opinions out of fear of the district being sued.

In the land of the free, our freedom has been stepped on by the law. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the meaning of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants.” Even the United Nations in 1948 stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The right includes freedom to have opinions without interference and to seek, receive and import information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Shouldn’t this include us? We are as much human as adults are. We are being thrown in the world of adults and then get ridiculed because we don’t know things. Discussing and sharing our views, ideas and beliefs will help right any misunderstood knowledge before it could harm us.

With more than 77 million students in U.S. schools, more than 63,000 are in CISD. This newspaper makes up only about 30 of those students that try to advocate for what’s best for all students.
However, we know the biggest changes start with small victories.

We want to speak about the rights of students because we are lucky enough to be allowed to. We want to stand for the rights of ourselves and others because we believe we should talk. We should discuss ideas, even bad ones, because then we could prove they’re bad without saying “because I said they are.”

Two things need to happen. One, the Texas Legislature should pass Senate Bill 514, currently stalled in the Education Committee, to overturn Hazelwood as 14 other states already have. Two, the Texas Legislature should make an exception to the electioneering law allowing student-led newspapers, TV stations and other media outlets to provide in-depth reporting, including opinions, on school bond elections.

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