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Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier

The school newspaper at Hazelwood East High School in Missouri was courting controversy when it decided to publish an article on pregnancy among students naming names, as well as an article on students of divorced parents. The principal of the school censored both articles from the school paper. The student editors of the newspaper sued.

In 1988, the Supreme Court handed down its decision: a complete defeat for the students. The majority of the court claimed Tinker did not apply to this case, since the school newspaper was a school-sponsored activity. According to the Court, when an activity is school sponsored, school officials may censor speech as long as such censorship is reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns. The Court went on to define these concerns broadly, stating that school officials would have the right to censor material that is “ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences, or inconsistent with shared values of a civilized social order.”

Hazelwood did distinguish between school-sponsored publications and other activities, and publications and activities that were not school sponsored, which the Court suggested would be given greater free-speech leeway. Nevertheless, the Hazelwood decision was clearly a defeat for student free speech rights. School officials were now allowed to censor school newspapers, as well as other school sponsored activities such as theatrical productions, in “any reasonable manner.”

Inside Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier