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New Policy Gives Young Journalists More Freedom

DALLAS -- With one more reading of the new Dallas School District Freedom of Expression policy, student journalists in Dallas will enjoy more First Amendment rights than before.

DALLAS -- With one more reading of the new Dallas School District Freedom of Expression policy, student journalists in Dallas will enjoy more First Amendment rights than before.

During the regular session of the 2007 Oregon Legislature, House Bill 3279 was approved. It provides all citizens, including students, with the right to engage in uninhibited discussion of issues. The bill also ensures student journalists in high schools and higher education institutions have free speech and free press protection.

The Oregon School Boards Association included changes in its suggested policy to reflect the legislation, and the Dallas School District recently rewrote its freedom of expression policy to align with those changes, Dallas High School Principal Keith Ussery said.

"I'm a pretty staunch First Amendment advocate in the first place, so it's in my nature (to support it)," Ussery said.

The school district was able to make further amendments from the OSBA draft, but Assistant Superintendent Dennis Engle said no other additions or changes were made.

Publications that fall under the legislation at the high school include the student newspaper, yearbook, literary arts magazine, and other school-sponsored pieces, Ussery said. Class work is not included.

The Dallas School Board has heard two readings of the suggested policy. Ussery said Engle requested a third reading of the policy to allow the public to share input.

The old policy included authorization from the school principal before publishing or distributing any publication within the school system.

However, Ussery said that he himself never reviewed publications prior to print as the advisers and students were capable to make decisions.

Ussery sees this as a positive change as there were few problems with following the previous policy at his school.

"It allows kids to learn in a way that is consistent with the outside world," Ussery said. "The Oregon State Constitution has very permissive laws of speech and press in this state and it makes sense that school press is treated in the same manner. We have to let kids have a (shot at basic freedoms) in a controlled environment."

In the past six or seven years, Ussery said there have only been two complaints from parents about printed material because the advisers coach students to print to a "community standard."

Beyond freedom of expression, Ussery said high schools in Oregon have been discussing how viable a student newspaper is as a learning tool because of printing costs. Plans are to maintain the newspaper at Dallas High School, but Ussery said the newspaper may only be online in the future.

The third reading of the new policy will take place at the Dallas School Board meeting Monday, Jan. 26, at the district office, Engle said.

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