Lawrence HS student journalist fought their administration and won

Without journalism societies and democracies die, and the student journalists at Lawrence (Kan.) High School are doing their part. 

Staffers of The Budget stood up for their First Amendment rights in the face of an administration that was using an artificial intelligence (AI) spyware called Gaggle to “respond to a growing mental health crisis by monitoring students’ correspondence, photos, classwork and files,” according to reporting by Sherman Smith at the Kansas Reflector.

The students reported on the situation extensively, suggested policy changes the district needed to make, and exposed a variety of student concerns

LHS senior Maya Smith was one of the student leading the charge against the district’s use of the spyware because of how it would hinder her and others’ ability to do journalism.

“It compromises our sources, our ability to use anonymous sources in cases where we do need to speak out against people in power — administration, district office,” Smith said in the Reflector story. “It makes it really difficult, and it puts us in danger, honestly. It puts our sources in danger, as well.”

According to the Reflector’s reporting, First Amendment attorney Max Kautsch said spyware programs such as that being deployed in Lawrence “create a security state within public schools that has an unreasonably chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech, such as statements critical of the administration.”

Having Gaggle hinders journalism and prevents independence because the process is compromised.

Ultimately, the pressure The Budget put on the administration forced those in power to remove the student journalists from being surveilled by Gaggle.

The students should be applauded for their efforts, and this truly shows the power of journalism in our society.

This also reminds me of what happened in 2017 at Pittsburg (Kan.) High School

There, the student journalists of The Booster Redux exposed a newly hired principal as a fraud who had fabricated her credentials.

This led to the principal’s resignation and the students receiving national attention and accolades, such as being invited to the White House correspondents’ dinner

However, the fight in Lawrence might not be done.

As Clay Wirestone at the Kansas Reflector pointed out, the other students are still being watched.

“We all want the best for our kids, sure. But how do we get it?” Wirestone wrote. “I would suggest that surveilling young people electronically, intercepting their communications and leaving hard calls to computers does more harm than good. Teens will learn they can’t trust the people around them. Building relationships and listening to those same young people might take time, but at least it can be done honestly. Students deserve free expression. They also deserve the freedom to chart their own course and figure out their own beliefs and course in the world. Adults can find that threatening — be they social conservatives limiting access to certain books or bewildered progressives trusting balky software.”

Without freedom, the youth of today can’t develop into the leaders of tomorrow.

“Give the kids space. Take care of them, yes, but let them learn and grow without the constant threat of ominous oversight,” Wirestone wrote.

That’s where journalism comes into play.

Journalism in the United States has existed since the birth of our country. It plays a pivotal role in daily life, and it witnesses some of the most significant moments in history. 

It keeps the public informed and supports democracy.

It is why journalism is considered the Fourth Estate, right after the three branches of government. 

The role of journalists is to provide a watchdog role of government and provide important information to the communities they serve. 

In doing so, journalists help keep elected officials and those in power, honest, truthful, and accountable by ensuring public business is done in broad daylight and not in the dark.

Local news is the lifeblood of a community. It gives the answers to the questions people are pondering.

Instead of trusting the likes of unreliable social media feeds, people can turn to local media outlets and be confident about what is going on.

Journalism can also be a powerful agent for change, and the journalism being produced doesn’t have to come from professional outlets. Student reporters can be just as impactful. They just need the proper teaching and support to practice their craft.

This is clear based on the work students have done in Lawrence and Pittsburg.

All journalists, whether those in training or professions, should take note of the work these students have done. It should be inspiring and energizing to keep doing the noble and important work of reporting the news.

We need good journalism, so support it any way you can.

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About toddvogts 840 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at twitter.com/toddvogts or via his website at www.toddvogts.com.