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Hazelwood Sch. Dist.. v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)

Students produced a school newspaper as part of their journalism class. One issue was to include student-written articles about teen pregnancy and the impact of divorce on kids. The principal objected to the stories, believing they were inappropriate for the younger students and unfair to the pregnant students who might be identified from the text of the article. He also believed that the parents of the students quoted in the divorce article should have been given an opportunity to respond. He deleted the articles from the school newspaper. Three students sued, claiming a violation of their First Amendment rights under the Tinker standard.

Whether school officials can censor school-sponsored student publications when they believe material is inappropriate for younger students, or for reasons other than the prospect of material and substantial disruption of the educational process.

By a 5-3 vote, the Court held that school officials can censor school-sponsored student publications when they have purposes reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns.

There is a fundamental difference between private student speech and student speech that occurs in school-sponsored activities. Educators have greater authority to control school-sponsored student speech because the public might reasonably believe such speech bears "the imprimatur of the school." 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 pedagogical concerns." A publication created as part of a class is clearly school-sponsored and a part of the curriculum. The school never adopted a policy whereby the publication simply became a public forum open to any and all views. The school administration thus properly acted as editor of the newspaper.

"A school must also retain the authority to refuse to sponsor student speech that might reasonably be perceived to advocate drug or alcohol use, irresponsible sex, or 'conduct otherwise inconsistent with the shared values of a civilized social order,' or to associate the school with any position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy." (Justice Byron White)

The dissent argued that the majority erred in making a distinction between student-initiated and school-sponsored speech. The Tinker standard of material and substantial disruption should govern all student free-expression cases. "The case before us aptly illustrates how readily school officials (and courts) can camouflage viewpoint discrimination as the 'mere' protection of students from sensitive topics." (Justice William Brennan)

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Last updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 | 09:21:12