Student Voice Matters

Private School Journalism Association

Private School Journalism Association

Private School Journalism Association

Private School Journalism Association

Model Affirmation

With New Voices legislation on the rise to protect free speech at public schools, the Private School Journalism Association (PSJA), with the full support of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC),  felt it high time to work toward providing students at private and independent schools with similar protections.

Dr. Erica Salkin, a PSJA board member and an associate professor of communication studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, lead the way by serving as chief author of this opt-in agreement, meant to encourage private and independent schools to walk-the-walk with mission and philosophy alignment.

Salkin is also the author of several articles and books on student media and student speech rights, including Private Schools and Student Media: Supporting Mission, Students, and Community from Lexington Books. At Whitworth, she teaches courses in media writing, digital media and free speech as well as advises the student newspaper The Whitworthian.

PSJA board members Louisa Avery, Adviser to The Standard (The American School in London, London, England), Jim Burns, Adviser to The Chronicle, (Harvard-Westlake School, Los Angels, California), Ellen Cowhey, Adviser to Tower, (The Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, New York), David Nathan, Adviser to The Review, (St. John’s School, Houston, Texas), Ana Rosenthal, Adviser to The Eagle Edition, (The Episcopal School of Dallas, Dallas, Texas), and Ray Westbrook, Adviser to The ReMarker (St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas, Texas) also offered key insight and suggestions.

PSJA also worked closely with the Student Press Law Center to craft and review this opt-in agreement. In this regard, Advocacy and Organizing Director Hillary Davis spent considerable time and energy reviewing this document and providing feedback. Davis, who spent  six years lobbying state legislators with the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, is a leading champion of how state-based New Voices laws can protect the First Amendment rights of student journalists.

Schools that sign the “Model Affirmation” will receive special recognition on PSJA’s site. To access and make a digital copy of the document, please visit HERE. Please send a signed digital copy to PSJA Director David Cutler ([email protected]).

You may also see a copy of the “Model Affirmation” below.

PSJA model affirmation of student free expression rights in private and independent schools


Private and independent K-12 education has a vigorous tradition in the United States and in international schools around the world. From the venture schools and academies of the late 1700s to the wide array of education offerings of today, private and independent schools have sought to educate the next generation through innovative pedagogy, mission-driven values, and a commitment to community.

Private and independent schools have also been fierce advocates for their students’ rights. The Society of Sisters sued the state of Oregon to ensure the rights of their students to attend a private school without violating that state’s compulsory education law in 1925 – and won. In the 1960s and ‘70s, “free schools” and “freedom schools” sought to teach young people how to take a more active role in their own education, to advocate for their rights and to create social change. Today’s schools continue those traditions, equipping tomorrow’s leaders with a thorough understanding of rights and responsibilities.

As part of our dedication to the highest quality education that promotes student welfare and lives of service and engagement, [name of school] affirms the right of freedom of expression for this academic community. We recognize the following:

  1. Private and independent schools are not bound by the same constitutional concerns as public schools, but our shared purpose of education suggests that a similar approach to student freedoms is both reasonable and wise;
  2. Freedom of expression is a fundamental principle in a democratic society granted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution [and appropriate state constitutional citation];
  3. Freedom of student expression has been recognized as vital by 14 states, as evidenced by their adoptions of “New Voices” laws designed to protect public school student press;
  4. Participation and engagement with a robust and free student press promote a range of academic and civic benefits that are both immediate and long-term;
  5. Teachers who defend their students’ freedom of expression uphold the tradition of preparing students for civic life but may do so at potential professional and personal risk.


In light of these findings, [name of school] adopts this Statement to uphold freedom of expression through school-sponsored media for our students, and the jobs of the teachers who appropriately support these rights, in order to encourage students to become educated, informed and responsible members of society.



  1. “School-sponsored media” means any material that is prepared, substantially written, published or broadcast, in any media, by a student journalist at [name of school] under the direction of a student media adviser. Such material is primarily created to serve a student audience, but may be distributed and read far beyond the academic environment, including online. School-sponsored media does not include media intended for distribution or transmission for classroom purposes only.
  2. “Student journalist” means a [name of school] student who gathers, compiles, writes, edits, photographs, records, or prepares information for dissemination by school-sponsored media.
  3. “Student media adviser” means an individual employed, appointed, or designated by [name of school] to supervise or provide instruction relating to school-sponsored media.


[Name of school]’s commitment to student journalists’ freedom of expression

With certain exceptions (see below) a student journalist at [Name of School] has the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press in school-sponsored media. Student journalists are responsible for determining the news, opinion, feature, and advertising content of school-sponsored media. Student media advisers may guide this process through instructing student journalists on the professional standards of journalism and English, elements of media law and ethics, media literacy and principles consistent with [name of school’s] mission.



This Statement does not protect expression by a student that:

  1. Is libelous or slanderous;
  2. Constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy;
  3. Meets a category of speech is not protected by the First Amendment or local law;
  4. Advertises a product that is illegal for purchase or use by minors;
  5. Counters the deeply held values of the institution’s mission such that it threatens the orderly operation of the school (see point 6); or
  6. So incites students as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of an unlawful act, the violation of a lawful school policy, or the material and substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school. 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.


Prior restraint and prior review

[Name of school] affirms that prior restraint inhibits a robust and free student press and may only be used for student journalist expression that falls within an unprotected category. Similarly, prior review of material by administrators undermines trust with students to carry out ethical and responsible journalism. [Name of school] commits to working with the student journalist whenever possible to address concerns before publication in an effort to avoid prior restraint and review.


Disciplinary actions

[Name of school] will not discipline a student journalist exercising freedom of expression or press in accordance with this Statement. A student media adviser who seeks to advocate for students engaging in expression that is protected by this Statement shall not be dismissed, suspended, reassigned or otherwise disciplined or coerced if such action is based on the adviser’s advocacy.


[name of school]’s right to expression

As a private entity, [name of school] similarly has a right to free expression. This Statement affirms that student journalist expression represents the perspectives of students and may not reflect those of our administrators, governing bodies, faculty or staff.



In issuing this Statement, [name of school] seeks to ensure the benefits of a robust and free student press for the students under our care and to uphold the principle of free expression. We acknowledge that freedom of expression is both a right and a responsibility, and we embrace the challenge of teaching both to our students. In providing this affirmation of freedom, we aspire to both.


So signed, the (date) day of (month)