#BeHeard Student journalists rally to promote house bill 1130

Valentine's Day of 2017 was a busy day at the Indiana Statehouse. Several bills related to education saw their way to the floor, including House Bill 1130.

The Indiana Statehouse

House Bill 1130, also known as the New Voices bill, was created by students for students in public educational institutions. The bill proposed would institute an addition to the Constitution of Indiana in hopes to protect journalism students and advisers in high schools and universities across the state.

House Bill 1130 was scheduled for a full hearing on Tuesday, February 14, but the hearing was cut short due to lack of time and will be continued on Thursday, February 16. During the scheduled hearing, 14 people spoke in favor of the bill including six high school and college students from around the state.

(Right) The House Chamber while discussing House Bill 1130. (Top Left) Southport High School student Andrew Tapp waits to speak in favor of the bill. (Bottom Left) University of Southern Indiana student Sarah Loesch testifies for the bill.

Many students shared stories of censorship and focused mainly on the role of self-censorship caused by pressure from administrators. The first student speaker was Lydia Gerike, a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington and the 2016 recipient of the Indiana Journalist of the Year Award through the Indiana High School Press Association.

Indiana University student Lydia Gerike speaks on the house floor. In Gerike's testimony she stated: “...many students across the state have not been given the same opportunity as I was… from the very beginning of their journalism career because of censorship of student media,” said Gerike. “The freedom I had in high school to cover topics such as student homelessness and the then questionable fate of ISTEP prepared me for a semester of political reporting as my first semester at Indiana University. I was fortunate that my school did not practice censorship, but there was still pressure to only publish good news.”

In contrast to Gerike’s freedom, there were stories of explicit censorship with life-changing ramifications. In January of 2007, Amy Sorrell, an adviser at Woodlan high school, printed a one column opinion piece one of her students wrote about tolerance. Sorrell lost her job over it. A few weeks after the article, each school in the district was put under prior review. Prior review prevented the students from publishing timely news because it took so long to get permission to publish. Sorrell explained in her testimony how “students were afraid to pursue stories.” The day the school took her keys and she lost her job over a student’s work in their newspaper was the last time Sorrell taught in an Indiana public school.

Former Indiana public instructor Amy Sorrell shares her story. “It's 10 years later and I still don’t know why I lost my job. I don’t know if it was an administrator, if it was a board member, if it was an influential parent who didn’t like the message that we should be nice to gay students,” said Sorrell. Later she continued with: “All of this happened because I disagreed and tried to defend my student and it's because of that I am here today. I lost my job defending my student. I printed that article ten years ago; I would print it today. But this is why we need this legislation. To protect teachers like me and students like Megan, and allow them to express an opinion without being punished.”

In addition to those who spoke, there were droves of students sitting in on the hearing to show their support of the bill and its passing. Any student who came to the hearing got a free t-shirt and button; many students donned the shirt for the hearing creating a field of blue in support. Many students from around the state are writing and publishing and advocating stories and columns in support of House Bill 1130. If the bill passes through the house, it will move on to the senate and the process will repeat. The bill is proposed to take effect on July 1, 2017.

(Left) Students and supporters of the bill stand on the third floor bridge waiting to enter the House floor. (Top Right) Greenwood student Dillion Cloyd reads the proposed House Bill 1130 while waiting for the hearing to begin. (Bottom Right) Steve Key from the HSPA speaks in favor of the bill.
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Lily Thompson
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