Students’ Right of Expression Under Hazelwood School District v KuhlmeierHistorical
In Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the U.S. Supreme Court held that school officials don’t violate the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the content of student speech, so long as their actions are “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
Facts of Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier
Three former Hazelwood East students who were staff members of Spectrum, the school newspaper, alleged that school officials violated their First Amendment rights by deleting two pages of articles from the May 13, 1983, issue of Spectrum. The pages included an article describing school students’ experiences with pregnancy and another article discussing the impact of divorce on students at the school. The newspaper was written and edited by a journalism class, as part of the school’s curriculum.
Pursuant to the school’s practice, the teacher in charge of the paper submitted page proofs to the school’s principal, who objected to the pregnancy story because the pregnant students, although not named, might be identified from the text, and because he believed that the article’s references to sexual activity and birth control were inappropriate for some of the younger students. The principal objected to the divorce article because the page proofs he was furnished identified by name (deleted by the teacher from the final version) a student who complained of her father’s conduct, and the principal believed that the student’s parents should have been given an opportunity to respond to the remarks or to consent to their publication. Believing that there was no time to make necessary changes in the articles if the paper was to be issued before the end of the school year, the principal directed that the pages on which they appeared be withheld from publication even though other, unobjectionable articles were included on such pages.
The District Court held that no First Amendment violation had occurred. However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. It held that the newspaper’s status as a “public forum” prohibited school officials from censoring the publication except when “necessary to avoid material and substantial interference with schoolwork or discipline … or the rights of others.”
Majority Decision in Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier
The Supreme Court reversed. By a vote of 5-3, the Court held that the principal’s actions did not violate the students’ free speech rights. “[E]ducators 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,” Justice Byron White wrote on behalf of the Court.
According to the majority, the paper did not constitute a “forum for public expression.” School facilities may be deemed to be public forums only if school authorities have, by policy or by practice, opened the facilities for indiscriminate use by the general public, or by some segment of the public, such as student organizations. If the facilities have instead been reserved for other intended purposes, communicative or otherwise, then no public forum has been created, and school officials may impose reasonable restrictions on the speech of students, teachers, and other members of the school community.
The majority further held that because the newspaper was not a public forum, the school did not have to comply with the standard established in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). Moreover, school administrators are not required to tolerate speech that contradicts the school’s academic mission. Justice White explained:
The question [of] whether the First Amendment requires a school to tolerate particular student speech—the question we addressed in Tinker—is different from the question whether the First Amendment requires a school affirmatively to promote particular student speech. The former question addresses educators’ ability to silence students’ personal expression that happens to occur on the school premises. The latter question concerns educators’ authority over school sponsored publications, theatrical productions, and other expressive activities that students, parents, and members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school.
Dissent in Hazelwood School District v Kuhlmeier
Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. authored a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Thurgood Marshall and Harry Blackmun. The dissenters expressed concern that the Court was sending students the wrong message. Justice Brennan wrote:
The young men and women of Hazelwood East expected a civics lesson, but not the one the Court teaches them today … Such unthinking contempt for individual rights is intolerable from any state official. It is particularly insidious from (a school principal) to whom the public entrusts the task of inculcating in its youth an appreciation for the cherished democratic liberties that our constitution guarantees.
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- Establishment ClauseFree Exercise Clause
- Freedom of Speech
- Freedoms of Press
- Freedom of Assembly, and Petitition
- The Right to Bear Arms
- Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
- Due Process
- Eminent Domain
- Rights of Criminal Defendants
Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Congress of the United States begun and held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the fourth of March, one thousand seven hundred and eighty nine.
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.