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COLUMBIA - Local high school journalism students are learning about ethics amid a state-wide conversation about protecting their rights.

Hickman High School's student-run paper, Purple & Gold, and it's staff of around 30 student journalists, are responsible for finding new stories each week. 

The paper's staff advisor, Kathleen Johnson, said she trusts her students' news judgment, and allows them to make the editorial decisions on each others' stories.

"They really hold each other accountable for when is this newsworthy, is this a story we should tell, what are the potential concerns that would come up form a story like this and does that add to the necessity of the story being written," Johnson said. "These students are interested in telling stories that they feel are important to kids their age and the community."

A Missouri lawmaker proposed a bill this session to strengthen first amendment protections for student journalists. The Cronkite New Voices Act, is one of many new voices bills that have been proposed in over 20 states.

The Missouri bill would prevent public schools from practicing prior restraint on student publications in secondary and higher education institutions.

To some extent, the bill would reverse the effects of the 1988 Supreme Court Hazelwood decision that denied student journalists first amendment protection of free speech. 

The Hazelwood decision had to do, in part, with the Court's concern that without some allowance for prior restraint, some school administrations would get rid of journalism all together.

The justices' concern was echoed by some lawmakers when the the Cronkite New Voices Act was heard in committee early in February. 

University of Missouri Communications Law professor Sandy Davidson said she understands the concern, but does not see it as a reason to circumvent quality journalism. 

"If you have students that are in a journalism class, the argument on the other side would be they should be able to focus on topics that are relevant and important. If you have a school that does not want them to do so, that wants the paper just to be kind of a cheer leading tool for the school, that's not really journalism."

Johnson said the only way her students were going to learn what was important to cover was by being able to make those tough calls on their own. 

"It's way more important for kids to be determining what they feel is journalistically ethical to print and what isn't. For an adult to take that right away from them can almost sometimes have a worse impression than if they are able to come to the table and say 'I don't think we should write this story for these reasons.'"

Johnson said she is able to give her students freedom because of the support Purple and Gold receives from the school's administration.

"Our administration is a huge support to the paper. So, in terms of what our administration has been able to do here, they help print out the paper, they help us with resources in order to make that paper happen and building the program as a whole."