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  • Summary date: Apr 21 2023 - View Summary

    Enacts the Student Journalist Press Freedom Restoration Act as new Article 29F in GS Chapter 115C (for students in elementary/secondary schools), new GS 116-305 (students attending a UNC constituent institution), and new GS 115D-82 (students attending a State community college), as follows.

    Defines school-sponsored (elementary/secondary schools)/university-sponsored (UNC institutions)/college-sponsored (community colleges) media as any material that is prepared, substantially written, published, or broadcast, in any media, by a student journalist at a school within the applicable institution (e.g., public school unit, UNC institution, or community college) under the direction of a student media adviser and distributed or generally made available to members of the student body.  The media  does not  include media intended for distribution or transmission for classroom purposes only. Also defines student journalist and student media advisor.

    Establishes a student journalist’s right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media regardless of whether the media is supported financially by the school, uses the facilities of the school, or is produced in conjunction with a course or class in which the student is enrolled. Specifies that a student journalist is responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. Permits student media advisers to teach professional standards of English and journalism to student journalists, consistent with the act. Clarifies that this protection does not extend to expression by a student journalist that is: (1) libelous or slanderous; (2) constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy; (3) obscene; (4) in violation of federal or State law; (5) for UNC/community college students, inciteful to students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act or the violation of a lawful policy issued by the educational institution where the student journalist is enrolled; (6) for elementary/secondary students enrolled in a public school unit, inciteful to students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of a lawful school district policy, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school. Specifies that administrators must base a forecast of material and substantial disruption on specific facts, including past experience in the school and current events influencing student behavior, and not on undifferentiated fear or apprehension. Prohibits prior restraint of material prepared for official school publications that do not fit within one of the exceptions to protected speech described above. Places burden on administrators to show prior justification for their limitation on expression and requires that the students have a timely opportunity for appeal. Clarifies this protection does not apply to advertisements in a school-sponsored media publication that’s unlawful for purchase or use by minors.  

    Prohibits disciplining student journalists for exercising their freedom of expression under the act, the First Amendment of the US Constitution, or Article I of the State Constitution and student media advisors for refusing to infringe on conduct protected by the act, the First Amendment of the US Constitution, or Article I of the State Constitution or acting to protect a student engaged in this conduct. Permits students, individually or through a parent or guardian, or student media adviser, to initiate legal proceedings solely limited to declaratory or injunctive relief to enforce the act. Permits reasonable attorneys’ fees to substantially prevailing plaintiff. Clarifies that no expression made by students in the exercise of free speech or free press rights will be deemed to be an expression of a policy of any of the institutions governed by the act, and no administrative officials of any of those institutions, or the institution itself, will be held responsible in any civil or criminal action for any expression made or published by students.

    Requires public school units, individual community colleges, and UNC institutions to adopt a written policy pertaining to the rights of student journalists that includes, at least, reasonable provisions for time, place, and manner of student expression and the timely appeal of decisions made under the act. Amends GS 115C-47 (local boards of education), GS 115C-218.75 (charter schools), GS 115C-238.66 (regional schools), GS 116-11 (UNC Board of Governors and pertaining to public secondary schools under its jurisdiction) requiring these institutions to adopt policies to support student-developed, school-sponsored media in line with the act.