Issue: Student Journalism and the First Amendment
Bottom Line: Schools Can Censor Student Newspapers
Three juniors at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, Missouri helped write and edit the school paper, The Spectrum, as part of a journalism class. The paper requested articles about the impact of divorce on students and teen pregnancy. The school principal refused to publish the related stories, saying they were too sensitive for younger students and contained too many personal details. The girls went to court, claiming that the school had violated their First Amendment right to freedom of expression.
The Supreme Court ruled against the girls. A school newspaper is not a public forum where anyone can voice an opinion, the Court said. Rather, it is a supervised learning experience for students interested in journalism. "Educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities, so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate (educational) concerns."
Schools may censor newspapers and other forms of student expression, including theatrical productions, yearbooks, creative writing assignments, and campaign and graduation speeches. The Court ruling in the Hazelwood case encourages schools to look closely at a student activity before imposing any restrictions and to balance the goal of maintaining high standards for student speech with student rights to free expression.
Source: Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company