Newspapers — especially community newspapers — are alive and kicking, no matter what you may have read online. We chronicle the lives and times of our neighbors, and keep a close eye on government. In addition to our print products, we maintain an up-to-date website to serve the public.

The future of journalism — be it in print, online or in some combination — is moving soon enough into the hands of the next generation. Anything that can aid that future should be heartily encouraged.

A bill has been introduced in the Maryland Senate that would protect the free press rights of student journalists across the state while still allowing school administrators to reasonably control the content of material distributed in their schools. The bill is supported by the Maryland, Delaware and D.C. Press Association — of which The Calvert Recorder is a member — and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Journalism instruction is designed to train students in the exercise of a free press and to put the First Amendment into practice in their school communities.

The decision in the 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier case for the first time limited the right to freedom of the press of public school students. In that case, a Missouri high school newspaper had been prohibited from running stories about divorce and teenage pregnancy. Other decisions, including Hosty v. Carter (in 2005, when an Illinois college paper disputed censorship over articles critical of the school’s administration), have expanded that ruling to include limiting the free press rights of adult students at public colleges and universities.

Gary Clites, a journalism and film teacher at Northern High School in Calvert County, is president of the Maryland-DC Scholastic Press Association. He is a strong advocate of SB 764, the New Voices Maryland Bill, which will come before the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee for testimony March 2.

Clites said while the Hazelwood and Hosty decisions gave school and university administrators the right to censor student speech, they provided little guidance as to when that censorship was appropriate, leaving students, teachers and administrators confused about their rights and responsibilities under the law.

This lack of guidance has created excesses on the part of censors, Clites said, as well as confusion and inappropriate self-censorship by student journalists, and fear of retaliation among teachers responsible for advising school publications.

Since 1988, eight states have passed free student press legislation restoring reasonable free press rights to their students. The nationwide effort to clarify the Hazelwood decision got a boost last year when the John Wall New Voices Act was passed by the North Dakota state legislature. Similar New Voices Acts have been introduced in five states this year, including Maryland.

The bill here would protect student journalists in public high schools and universities from undue censorship of responsible journalism; protect them and their advisers from retaliation; protect student publications from prior restraint; and clarify circumstances under which administrators could censor student journalism.

We support the bill, for the future of free speech — both in print and digitally.