Virginia Assocation of Journalism Teachers & Advisers

New Voices: Virginia

The New Voices campaign has come to Virginia! Fourteen states have already passed laws protecting student journalists from censorship. Advocates in Virginia hope that our state could be the next.

But what exactly is this campaign? The Student Press Law Center explains it best: “New Voices is a student-powered nonpartisan grassroots movement of state-based activists who seek to protect student press freedom. They include advocates in law, education, journalism and civics to make schools and colleges more welcoming places for student voices.”

To learn more or get involved, check out the SPLC’s page on New Voices in Virginia as well as the articles and resources available here!

What’s the Status?

Virginia House Bill 36, co-sponsored by state delegates Chris Hurst and Danica Roem, was introduced on Nov. 19, 2019. Having made it through the House education subcommittee by a vote of 4-3, it now moves on to a full committee hearing on Monday, Feb. 3.

What Does the Bill Do?

The bill (full text available here) protects the rights of student journalists–and their advisers–by:

  • Asserting students’ right to freedom of speech and of the press
  • Clarifying that students retain their rights regardless of whether their publication is financially supported by their school or part of a course in which they are enrolled
  • Ensuring that advisers cannot be disciplined for protecting and/or supporting student speech rights
  • Providing a limited set of situations in which speech is not protected:
    • Libel or slander
    • Unwarranted invasion of privacy
    • Speech that violates federal or state law
    • Speech that leads to a “clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of school board policy, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school”

This one-pager has more details on what the bill does and does not do. Use it to answer questions, dispel myths, etc.

What Can Supporters Do?

Let your politicians know that this legislation is important to you. Here are a few options:

  • Call your delegates. (Not sure what to say? Use this model phone script.)
  • Write your delegates. Handwritten is best! Use this template as a guide.
  • Email your delegates.
  • Write a letter to the editor to the local paper.
  • Write an opinion column in your school paper.
  • Send examples of your student work to the local paper. Show how you cover challenging topics, or the quality of your scholastic journalism.

If you have a story or experience with censorship, share your story with your own delegate as well as the bill’s sponsor, Delegate Hurst.

VAJTA wants to hear from you, too! You can reach us at [email protected]

How Can Constituents Support the Bill in Person?

If you’re close to Richmond, you can speak out in favor of the bill at the Feb. 3 hearing. Please contact VAJTA ([email protected]) for more details.

Anything Else?

Share your testimonies, letters to the editors, photos of students making phone calls or speaking with their representatives, photos of group letter-writing–anything and everything you are doing–with us at [email protected] and tag us on Twitter @VAJTA1.