Student journalists fight for free speech in Burlington

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Students in the Burlington School District are helping shape new policy to maintain free speech.

"It's about establishing a practice and a set of guidelines for future journalists," said Julia Shannon-Grillo, an editor of the BHS Register.

Shannon-Grillo is also a member of the New Voices Law Policy Committee. The group hoping to clarify the rights of student journalists and their administrators.

"The purpose is to outline what our rules are so that this sort of incident doesn't happen again," Shannon-Grillo said.

She’s talking about the censorship of an article posted by the Register back in September.

The BHS Register broke a story about school guidance director Mario Macias being charged with unprofessional conduct by the state.

The next day, student journalists say principal Noel Green demanded they remove the article.

Thursday, he sat alongside her and seven others, analyzing the state’s Student Right’s Law.

"The last meeting was really the first time we got to have an open discussion with him and that was really helpful for us,” Shannon-Grillo.

Now, they are forming their own version, specifically tailored to the district.

"It's essential that they have a good policy that the First Amendment does apply to students as well as the rest of Americans," said Mike Donoghue of the New England First Amendment Coalition and Vt. Press Association.

The main sticking point during Thursday’s meeting was deciding whether articles need approval by school administrators.

The group decided that won't be necessary.

"That's a really important part to us on the Register, is making sure that our freedom is sustained in that we don't have prior review," said Shannon-Grillo.

The committee will present the policy to the School Board Tuesday. Board members tell WCAX News they expect to pass it.

If it is passed, the Burlington School District will be the second district in Vermont to have its own media policy.