ALBANY - Local state officials joined a group of Corning-Painted Post High School student journalists Tuesday to call for the enactment of legislation they have helped sponsor for the past several years called the “Student Journalist Free Speech Act.”

State Senator Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, and local students participated in a news conference at the State Capitol as part of Student Press Advocacy Day.

“The role and the responsibility of a free press in American democracy is one of the most timely and serious examinations taking place in our society today,” O’Mara and Palmesano said in a joint statement. “We remain hopeful that the introduction of this legislation will help contribute to the discussion and, especially for aspiring journalists and their instructors and mentors, help heighten their appreciation and understanding of the First Amendment, the working press, and the protection and preservation of this ideal moving forward into the 21st century.”

The measure stems from the work of a grassroots movement known as “New Voices,” a campaign initiated by student journalists and their academic supervisors across the nation, and guided by the Student Law Press Center. 

The proposed Student Journalism Free Speech Act in New York would expand First Amendment rights for the state’s public high school journalists, officials said.  It would give student journalists editorial control over their publications. Currently in New York State, school administrators have the final say in publication. Fourteen states have enacted legislation to protect journalists at public and private high schools and colleges.  Eleven other states have legislation pending in 2019.
In 2017, Palmesano and O'Mara were invited to learn more about "New Voices" from student journalists at the Corning-Painted Post High School, officials said. The legislators met with the students, their supervisor Mike Simons, a media and ethics instructor at the high school, and school administrators, and subsequently agreed to introduce and sponsor the legislation that remains before the Legislature this year.
“In my 20-year administrative career, I have learned that students are the eyes and ears of a school and district and they have powerful stories to tell as a result,” said Corning-Painted Post School District Superintendent Michael Ginalski. “As the superintendent, I also want to know what kids think - unguarded. I believe wholeheartedly that bringing the things they see into the open in a responsible manner will only strengthen school communities and, ultimately, schools will operate more effectively. I have learned through the years that students can be really helpful in identifying issues so it’s a smart leadership move to provide that opportunity. In the end, I’d much rather see something controversial covered in a school newspaper or yearbook instead of a secret Facebook page where the authors are unknown. Ultimately, this is the students’ program. Our team needs to give them the freedom to cover stories through their own eyes.”