Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988)
Students' freedom of the press rights in schools
Decision Date: January 13, 1988
Background: Journalism students in Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis produced a school sponsored and funded newspaper called the Spectrum. One issue featured stories on teen pregnancy and divorce. The school's principal thought the stories were inappropriate and prior to the publication, he deleted the two pages containing the offensive stories without telling the journalism students. The students were upset because they had not been given the opportunity to make changes, and because several other non-offensive articles were also deleted when the pages were removed. The students felt their First Amendment rights had been violated and took their case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The court sided with the school, ruling that the school had the authority to remove the articles written as part of the school's curriculum. The students appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The appeals court reversed the lower court, finding that the paper was a "public forum" and that school officials could censor its content only under extreme circumstances. Unhappy with the ruling, the school appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Decision: In 1988, the Supreme Court, with one vacancy, handed down a 5-3 decision in favor of the school. The Court reversed the appellate court, and said that public schools do not have to allow student speech if it is inconsistent with the schools' educational mission. Even if the government can't censor such speech outside of school, public schools have the authority to limit that speech.