Wesley Lea Hill resident Fern Valentine led the drive to pass a significant Washington State bill allowing student journalists more freedom of press.
Earlier this year, Washington became the 14th state to adopt a bill which gives student journalists first amendment protections similar to professional journalists.
The bill basically gives student editors control over their content, allowing them to publish what they want as long as it’s not libelous, illegal or disruptive to the educational process.
While this wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the students, teachers, governing representatives and other supporters, one person who has been crucial to this has been Fern Valentine.
Fern has been at the forefront of this endeavor since 1992 when she first worked on the bill. In all previous versions of the bill it would get close to passing but would not make it through the house committee.
Fern is former chair of the Washington Journalism Education Association and used to teach journalism at Auburn High School. She worked with the current the journalism adviser at the school to invite Senator Joe Fain of Auburn to tour the school’s journalism program.
“The school’s journalism classes have worked under an open forum policy for many years and I think the senator was impressed by the professionalism and autonomy of the students,” said Fern.
The senator threw in his support of the bill and helped get it through the 2017 fall session of the senate with almost unanimous support. The bill then moved on to the House committee and Fern encouraged people to write their house representatives to support it. When it got to the house floor, students, teachers and other supporters appeared throughout hearings.
In March 2018, Fern, along with other observers, tuned in to watch the House votes tally in real time.
“When it got past 50 votes I couldn’t believe it. That’s how many we needed for it to pass, but then it kept going!” said Fern.
The bill then passed 91 to 6.
“When the students are given more freedom to publish what they want, they begin to care more about it, encouraging them to take ownership of their own work,” said Fern.
Fern believes that with this bill, students will acquire more vocational experience and learn what it’s like to work in the journalism field–publishing content responsibly and working within a budget to meet deadlines. This, she said, would enable students to produce more meaningful work that they care about.
With excitement, Fern notes, “It’s wonderful seeing the children supported in something they care about; it’s always been my passion.”
At this time, Washington State schools are required to adopt new policies based on the bill. For more information visit wjea.org.