March 31, 2005
Dear FAS Leaders,
“The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution if you only know how to use it.”
-Sherlock Holmes, 1904
In this week’s newsletter we provide an overview of First Amendment issues in student journalism, direct you to the Newseum’s online exhibition of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, and spread the word about scholarships for journalism students.
We know that many of you work with your school’s yearbook or newspaper staff, and it is likely that you have discussed censorship with your students. How have you handled disagreements over content? What kinds of student publication policies does your district have in place? We’re interested in hearing the ways in which you teach rights with responsibilities in publishing. If you have an experience to share, please respond to this email.
Also, we always enjoy receiving student newspapers from our schools. Please let us know if you school’s newspaper is available online, or mail the latest edition to the attention of Emily Nicholson (First Amendment Center, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA, 22202).
Overview--Student Newspapers & Yearbooks
Unsure of what the law does and does not allow when it comes to the First Amendment and student journalists? First Amendment Research Attorney David Hudson, Jr. provides a helpful overview of the issues involved in student journalism.
Student journalists do not possess the same level of First Amendment protections as adult journalists. Many public school students who work on their school newspapers or yearbooks find that they do not have the freedom to write on certain controversial subjects. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that public school officials can censor school-sponsored student expression as long as they have a valid educational reason for doing so.
This decision has given school officials broad authority to regulate school-sponsored publications. Generally, such publications are deemed to be non-public — as opposed to public — forums, which are defined as places that traditionally have been open to diverse viewpoints and First Amendment activity.
The Hazelwood decision
The controversy arose in 1983 at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis County, Mo. A journalism class produced a newspaper called the Spectrum. An issue of the school paper included articles on teen pregnancy and the impact of divorce on teenagers. The school principal, Robert Reynolds, objected to these articles, finding that the pregnancy story, which used fake names for the pregnant students, raised privacy concerns and contained inappropriate subject matter for younger students. Concerning the divorce story, Reynolds said the parents of the students quoted in the story should have been given an opportunity to respond.
Reynolds ordered the stories removed, which resulted in two pages’ being cut from the newspaper. Several students, including layout editor Cathy Kuhlmeier, challenged Reynolds’ actions in federal court. After losing in the lower courts, Kuhlmeier and others took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The students argued that their rights should be governed by the prevailing standard for student First Amendment rights articulated by the Court in the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. In that decision, the Court ruled that public school officials could not constitutionally punish students for their peaceful, symbolic expression of wearing black armbands to school to protest U.S. involvement in Vietnam. The Court set up the Tinker standard — that school officials cannot censor student expression unless they can reasonably forecast that the expression will create a substantial disruption or material interference with school activities or invade the rights of others.
Kuhlmeier contended that the articles in question created no disruption within the meaning of Tinker. However, the Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood set up a new standard for school-sponsored speech. The majority of the justices applied their notion of school-sponsored speech beyond student newspapers to include school yearbooks, campus mascots, school plays and — in the words of the Court — “other expressive activities that students, parents, and members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school.”
In describing the new standard, Justice Byron White wrote:
“The standard articulated in Tinker for determining when a school may punish student expression need not also be the standard for determining when a school may refuse to lend its name and resources to the dissemination of student expression. Instead, we hold that 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.”
Click here to read the rest of this overview, related FAQs and court cases.
Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs
Since 1942, the Pulitzer Prize Board has awarded photographers for distinguished examples of breaking news or feature photography. The Newseum has collected these photographs, along with in-depth interviews of the award-winning photographers, and created the online exhibition, Capture the Moment: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs.
Chances are you will recognize many of the photographs featured:
- Marines raising the U.S. Flag on Iwo Jima;
- The assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan;
- American POWs returning from Vietnam and being greeted by family members;
- The twisted rubble of a freeway caused by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area.
We know that you’ll find these photographs and audio commentary moving, and we hope that you’ll share this online exhibit with your students.
Download Shockwave Player to view the Broadband section of the exhibition and hear audio interviews of each photographer.
Journalism Scholarship Opportunities
As a final note, opportunities for journalism scholarships are currently available at the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ High School Journalism Web Site.
From $500 to $50,000, scholarships are organized by state, school, and organization for senior high school students planning to study journalism in college. Many of these scholarships have deadlines in April and May, so let the young Edward R. Murrows at your school know today!
Speak to you next week!
First Amendment Schools