The following are prepared remarks by NEFAC’s Michael Donoghue for the June 5 Maple Run Unified School District Board meeting in St. Albans, Vermont. Donoghue provided these comments as a representative for both NEFAC and the Vermont Press Association.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Maple Run School Board:
I would like to speak in favor of the proposed revision of Policy C11 that you will consider tonight. The policy covers the Student Freedom of Expression.
My name is Mike Donoghue. I serve as the executive director of the Vermont Press Association, which represents the interests of the 11 daily and roughly four dozen non-daily newspapers circulating in the state. It is my pleasure also to be the elected First Vice President of the New England First Amendment Coalition — a six-state effort to strengthen the First Amendment and the five freedoms it ensures: speech , press , religion , right to assemble , right to petition for grievances.
On behalf of NEFAC and the press association, we want to thank the school board for its efforts on this important First Amendment policy. We also need to salute your BFA journalism class for its interest in the new Vermont law known as “New Voices.” As some of you may know, one of the former editors of The Mercury newspaper, Robbie Mahar, was a key voice in the legislature when testimony was taken in 2017.
I have had the benefit of being invited to speak to the journalism class several times during my career at the Burlington Free Press — and in my semi-retired life. You have an extraordinary situation. I have always found the students at BFA-St. Albans to be fully prepared, knowledgeable and completely engaged. You have the Gold Standard in Vermont.
When I visited the BFA journalism class earlier this year, the student editors Julia Scott and Haley Seymour had studied both the “New Voices” law in Vermont and the board policy adopted over Christmas vacation and found some inconsistencies. Their research and work on the Vermont law was just as if they had been professional journalists. I believe it was their research and a subsequent meeting with some key officials that has led to the new draft tonight.
More has changed in the news business in the last 20 years compared to the previous 200 years. Journalism teacher Peter Riegelman stays on top of those issues and his students ask thoughtful, wonderful questions. Sometimes they have to ask the tough questions. We need that today. You need that today. We need today’s students in the years to come to be able to sort out what is real news? What is fake news? And what to report.
So on behalf of the New England First Amendment Coalition and the Vermont Press Association we would like to thank the school board, and the BFA administration for understanding the importance of a free press, especially for students and their newspaper and other media outlets.