Kuhlmeir vs. Hazelwood school district

October 14, 2009 at 3:32 pm (English Classes)

The U.S. Supreme Court held for the first time that public school officials may impose some limits on what appears in school-sponsored student publications.

The high school paper was published as part of a journalism class. The principal at Hazelwood usually reviewed the school paper before it was published, and in this case he deleted two pages that had been written for the next edition of the school paper.

One of the deleted articles covered the issue of student/teen pregnancy and included interviews with three students who had become pregnant while attending school. (There was also an article about several students whose parents had been divorced, however the students’ names were not disclosed in the article.) To keep the students’ identity secret, the staff used pseudonyms instead of the students’ names. The principal said he felt the anonymity of the students was not sufficiently protected and that the girls’ discussion of their use or non-use of birth control was inappropriate for some of the younger students.

The First Amendment’s freedom of speech protections were not violated by the school district because the First Amendment protection for student expression described in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), does not compel a public school to affirmatively sponsor speech that conflicts with its “legitimate pedagogical goals.” The school-financed newspaper at issue was also not considered to be a public forum under the totality of circumstances present in the case, and therefore, its editors were entitled to a lower level of First Amendment protection than is applicable to independent student newspapers or those newspapers that have, by policy and practice, opened their pages to student opinion.

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