By Brennen McWright, Staff Writer
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” This quote is from the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and it protects basic press freedoms in our country.
At the Panther Press, we strongly believe that it is the right and the privilege of the press to inform, educate, and entertain the community. We exercised these rights by conducting a school board candidate forum on Oct. 29 to learn more about those who desire to lead our district. I was the reporter of record from our news outlet for this event.
The last question of the evening posed by Panther Press editor in chief was: “What are your opinions of the First Amendment and the rights of student journalists, and would you support increased protections for student journalists and advisers?”
The candidates’ responses showed they clearly support free speech. “Our founding fathers had the idea in mind that in order to have liberty and prosperity, we needed to have a free press,” said Luigi DeFrancesco, candidate for the four-year term.
Several noted that the press is the only way to keep the public free. “Freedom of the press allows students to form their own opinions,” said Michael Muckinhaupt, who is running for a two-year term. He added, “If you don’t have an opinion, then you’re not thinking.”
These opinions can change the community, the district, and the world. “I have seen a lot of cases in school districts,” said Harry Hicks, a candidate for the four-year position, “Where students have run into problems with what they printed in the papers.” His answer to the question of whether or not students should have First Amendment rights was simply one word: “Yes.”
Limitations on student press freedoms have become more common since the 1988 Hazelwood court decision gave school administrators more rights to review and restrain student publications for “pedagogical concerns,” but many teachers and are willing to stand up for students’ First Amendment rights. “It’s the teacher’s responsibility to give the students guidance, not censorship,” said Jennifer Davis, a candidate for the 4-year term.
Current board member and candidate Tim Brown said, “We have the right to free speech, and I will always defend it. ” He added, “[Myself] and a few others up here wore the uniform to defend the Constitution…we may not always agree, but that’s the great thing about the United States of America.”
Candidate Jeff Brooks pointed out that civic engagement is important. “Becoming a journalist teaches you how to fact check and how to understand the world around you.” Brooks also noted that school board members appreciate the students who help keep them informed: “At our school board meetings, we invite the students to come and present.”
The Panther Press takes that mission seriously by delivering an in-person update at every school board meeting.
Today is election day, and we will be reporting on the results of this school board election. We would like to salute the PENNCREST board candidates who attended our forum for being champions of press rights. We hope to see you at the next board meeting.
Journalism Adviser, Saegertown Jr. Sr. High School