Main content

Fictional Scenario - Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier

The Fictional Scenario is based on the landmark Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. Use the fictional scenario with the Oxford Style Debate and the scripted witness stand exchange for the First Amendment and social media activity.

Students and Administrators Face Off on Their School’s FaceLook Page

After budget cuts force Principal Mary Skinner to eliminate Forks High School’s drama program, some students form their own drama group. They call themselves the Fangtastics and specialize in vampire stories to capitalize on the current vampire craze in books, movies, and television.

The Fangtastics perform plays in the community and do community service, including sponsoring a record-setting blood drive, at which they wear vampire costumes to promote the cause. As a result, The Fangtastics are selected by a student committee to perform in the school’s annual talent show. On the day of the show, the members appear at school in vampire costumes and makeup. During class, they stay in character and complain when they have to sit near classroom windows, since vampires are sensitive to light. During lunch, one of the members sips from a large glass jar filled with tomato juice labeled “Bloody Mary Skinners.”

The performance at the talent show is enthusiastically received by the student audience. The group decides to apply for club status, which would allow them to use the school theater and appear in the yearbook as an official club. Principal Mary Skinner denies the request after receiving reports about the members’ behavior on the day of the talent show. She suspects the group is becoming a cult and is concerned that the members will continue to disrupt the learning environment and even threaten the safety of the students, teachers, and administration.

Randy Cullen, the leader of the Fangtastics, protests the Principal’s decision by posting a satirical poem on the school’s FaceLook page, a social media site similar to MySpace and Facebook. The school created the site and assigned senior Alex Swan, who reports to the Principal, to monitor the content. The monitor’s job is to ensure that all postings comply with the school policy prominently displayed on the page. The policy restricts postings to those that are “school related and in good taste.” Alex is responsible for accepting students as “friends” so that they can post comments. Alex is told to accept only student postings and to alert the Principal if any of the material violates the policy.

Although Alex does not notify the Principal that a satirical poem is posted on the school’s site, football player Chris Black makes the Principal aware of it. She immediately orders Alex to remove it. The Principal also requires the monitor to “defriend” all of the Fangtastics to bar them from posting more questionable material.

Randy’s parents support him in his decision to sue the Principal for violating the First Amendment right to free speech. The Principal and the school respond to the complaint filed in federal court with their own assertion. They contend that the student’s poem is not protected free speech and that censoring the poem and restricting the students’ access to the FaceLook page are within the bounds of the Principal’s authority to maintain a stable and productive learning environment.

DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only. They may not reflect the current state of the law, and are not intended to provide legal advice, guidance on litigation, or commentary on any pending case or legislation.