Hawaii education board inches toward implementing 2022 law to protect student journalists

First posted February 26, 2024 5:05pm EST
Last updated February 26, 2024 5:05pm EST

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Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hawaii is one of seventeen states with student-journalist protection laws in place | Source: GPA Photo Archive

The Hawaii Board of Education sought public response to a policy draft that would belatedly implement a law expanding First Amendment protections for student journalists. The law was signed by the governor in May 2022.

Key Player

The Hawaii Board of Education consists of nine voting members, a member of the military, and one student representative. It presides over the state’s educational policies. The board “envisions an exemplary statewide system of public schools where students are engaged in an inspiring, personalized, and culturally responsive education,” according to its official website. 

Further Details

The Hawaii Student Journalism Act was signed into law in May 2022 by then-Gov. David Ige (D). The act requires that students attending public schools in the state enjoy the right to produce press content freely without undue intervention, while ensuring school employees are not held responsible for students’ exercise of their rights. 

Hawaii is one of 17 states that have comparable student-journalist protection laws. 

At the time, Ige highlighted the importance of the bill to public schools throughout the state. “Providing student journalists with the same protections that exist for them in the industry gives them real-world opportunities and provides them a more enhanced laboratory for democracy and learning,” Ige stated.

Several students, like Althea Cunningham, a recent graduate of Honolulu’s President William McKinley High School, where she was a writer for the student newspaper The Pinion, echoed the positive sentiments expressed by Ige about the law. “Schools are supposed to help prepare students for the future. How is letting administrators get away with killing articles they don’t agree with helping our future journalists?” she asked. 

But more than a year and a half later, the state board of education had not yet updated its policy — which gives school staff authority over what goes in school-sponsored publications — to comply with the law. 

“Doing it this way does allow thoughtful planning and implementation to occur,” Board of Education Executive Director Capsun Poe said.


Board solicits advice, aims to reform policies 

On Feb. 1, 2024, Hawaii’s education board renewed its focus on aligning its policies with the state’s new law. Under the new policy proposed by the board, a student whose work was censored would have five days to submit a written appeal to contest the decision.  

Subsequently, as described in the policy, an area superintendent who oversees the student’s school would then have five days to convene a hearing in response to the student’s claims. 

The board published a form on the education department’s website asking for input regarding the new policies. Hawaiians are asked to submit their questions about the policy and also indicate their level of satisfaction with it.