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CPS Student Newspapers Are Struggling To Publish Because Of New Tech Rules, Staffers Say

It's "alarming" how few CPS schools have newspapers — and a new state law and CPS rules are making it hard for even those few to publish, one adviser said.

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CHICAGO — High school journalists across Chicago Public Schools are pushing back against a law they say has “hindered” their ability to publish news.

The law, called the Student Online Personal Protection Act, is meant to protect students’ data and give their parents control over how it’s used. But CPS added extra stipulations to it that some companies have not or can’t meet.

Students said that’s making it so they can’t use software that’s key to producing news about their schools and communities. They’re struggling to publish and fear losing access to years of archived stories and photos.

Students around the United States use industry standard software from Adobe to design their print publications and Student News Online to manage their newspaper websites. Vendors had to update their software to meet the law’s restrictions — but they were given little notice for making those updates, said Katie Fernandez, a journalism adviser at Phoenix Military Academy.

Because the software has yet to be tailored to the law’s restrictions, many students have lost access to it unless they pay for it themselves and use it on their own time.

“It’s hindering their ability to publish,” Fernandez said. Officials are “not saying we can’t publish, but they’re limiting us to how they can publish. In their minds, there’s other sites [students can use].

“I wouldn’t say they’re completely stopping students from using their First Amendment, but they’re making it harder than it should be.”

CPS did not respond to requests for comment.

Fernandez is also the president of Scholastic Press Association of Chicago and Illinois director of the Journalism Education Association, organizations that help teachers get their journalism programs off the ground. The adviser said it’s “alarming” how many CPS schools already don’t have journalism programs, and the law might complicate publishing for the current programs. 

“That’s a big trend in Chicago public high schools,” Fernandez said. “And there’s no one in the central CPS office that we can talk to or find someone to help us or just even keep track of what schools have journalism programs. It all kind of falls on the teachers.” 

Alex Burstein, a co-editor-in-chief of the Lane Tech paper, and Leo Necheles, a co-editor-in-chief of the Jones College Prep paper, said they are afraid of losing years of work if their papers’ websites go away because they can’t use Student News Online.

And Necheles said his paper lost access to its Adobe software right before publishing, so he had to pay for the software to get the paper done.

“There’s the fear that we’re gonna lose our website, which I think is the scariest of all,” Necheles said. “Because the website has been years of hard work put in by past editors and current editors — and just to see it all go down the drain because of a [law] that’s going to take it away.” 

Burstein said he is looking into alternatives, such as free software the students could use to produce print publications and websites.

The staff at Lane Tech’s paper, The Champion, is assessing their options and considering attending Board of Education meetings to urge officials to change their interpretation of the law.

“I know we’ll find a way to keep on going no matter what,” Burstein said. “But it’s definitely unfortunate. Hopefully, it gets resolved sooner rather than later.”

Ryan Maggid, the adviser of the Jones College Prep paper, said he thinks the law was well-intended and aimed at protecting student information, but CPS should have evaluated “nuances” — like the problems it’s caused for student papers — before implementing it.

“The issue we ran into and that we’re seeing right now is, like a lot of big organizations, they create these big, broad-stroke policies without necessarily thinking about the nuances and who’s affected,” Maggid said. “[I’m] almost thinking about this as maybe we should have had an environmental impact study to see the different stakeholders and how different stakeholders were affected during this creation of this policy and execution of the policy.” 

Fernandez said the impact reaches beyond journalism students, as other students can’t use products like Adobe and teachers have to change their curriculums. 

“CPS is really focusing on equity,” she said. “Our students are not allowed to use a program that everyone across the country is using. [It] doesn’t seem equitable me.”

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