Hazelwood: History of Censorship in Education
Imagine for a moment that everyone in America who favors censorship of one kind or another suddenly got their wish. Imagine they could clap their hands and cause any material that they objected to, for whatever reasons, to disappear . . . Virtually every film and television show would vanish . . . School textbooks would be so watered-down as to be meaningless. Newspapers would be forbidden to run controversial stories . . . . (American Voices 117)
The basis of American freedom is guaranteed in the Constitutions Bill of Rights by the First Amendment which states that Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . (as quoted in Student 9).
The right of freedom of the press is clearly outlined and newspapers nation-wide covet their responsibility to be the watchdog of society. They were there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. They were there when the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out. And they were there when the Supreme Court ruled on the Hazelwood court case. The professional journalists have set an example for high school students who also want to cover important events that are pertinent to their school and community.
Up until 1987, the Tinker v. Des Moines (1968) cases ruling prevailed which appeared to reinforce the idea of high school students right to free speechas long as there was no disruption of or material interference with school activities according to the court (Essex 140). The case outlined two important aspects: Students in public school do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the school house gate but school officials have comprehensive authority . . . to prescribe and control conduct in the schools; and school authorities have the power to ban/punish speech that materially and substantially interferes with requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or speech which officials forecast will have such an effect.
But in 1983, Hazelwood East, a St. Louis high school, produced an in-depth spread covering divorce, sex and teen pregnancy. Before the newspaper ran, the principal called for prior review and censored the entire section. Leslie Smart and two other students took their school district to court. Smart and the other journalists at Hazelwood East felt that their freedom of press rights had been violated and as Smart pointed out, Its right there in the Constitution. It doesnt have an age limit. Censorship is not legal in this country, (Thompson A8).
The case went to two lower level courts, losing the first and winning the second, before heading for the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court after hearing both sides ruled that high school principals and administrators, who are government officials, had the power to censor newspapers and to edit and remove any information or story they deemed as inconsistent with the schools basic educational mission, (Shea 33). The decision upheld the right of public high school administrators at Hazelwood East High School in subrban St. Luois, Mo., to censor stories concerning teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce on children from a school-sponsored student newspaper. The Court found the censorship of the article justified on the basis of the principals judgment that (1) the pregnant students anonymity was not adequately protected, despite the articles use of aliases; and (2) the judgment that the article was not sufficiently sensitive to the privacy interests of the students’ boyfriends and parents . . . . (Hazelwood 274). Similarly, the Court finds in the principals decision to censor the divorce article a journalistic lesson that the author should have given the father of one student an opportunity to defend himself against her charge that (in the Court’s words) he chose playing cards with the guys over home and family . . . , (Hazelwood 260, 275).
Although the Supreme Court was only dealing with a student nespaper in this case, it seems clear that all student news and information media could be affected. Student newspapers, yearbooks, and literary magazines as well as radio and television programs can use this information as a guide. Since the First Amendment only protects against the actions of government officials, the Hazelwood case only dealt with First Amendment rights, private school students are unaffected by this decision. They must rely on school policies or state law to protect their freedom of expression rightts.
The majority opinion in the Hazelwood ruled that the first amendment rights of students are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults . . . they must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. The decision also stated that a school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistant with its basic educational misson, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school. In essence, the Supreme Court said that the student newspaper was not a forum for public expression by students, and thus the censored students were not entitled to broad First Amendment protection, (Hazelwood 567-69). The decision allows a school to present a reasonable educational justification for its censorship, if the censoring has no valid educational purpose it will be prohibited. For example, a principal who exercised unethical censorship was in Chicago, Ill., in May 1994. The school official suspended the journalists for four days for not obtaining permission to publish an article that criticized the principals no-shorts policy, (Doyle 14).
The Hazelwood ruling has restrict high school journalists for receiving the guarantee of freedom of the press. The Kansas City Star on Jan. 13, 1988, quoted the dissenting opinion written by Justices William J. Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun which stated the young men and women of Hazelwood East expected a civics lesson but not the one the court teaches them today. Brennan characterized the schools censorship as indefensible:
Such unthinking contempt for individual rights is intolerable from any state official. It is particularly insidious from one to whom the public entrusts the task of inculcating in its youth an appreeciation for the cherished democratic liberties that our Constitution guarantees (Hazekwood 580).
According to the dissenting opinion, three of the five justices found that this case arose when the Hazelwood East administration breached its own promise, dashing its students expectations. The school principal, without prior consultation or explanation, excised six articles, comprising two full pages, of the May 13, 1983, issue of Spectrum. He did so not because any of the articles would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline, but simply because he considered two of the six inappropriate, personal, sensitive, and unsuitable for student consumption. Justice Brennan stated, In my view the principal broke more than just a promise. He violated the First Amendment’s prohibitions against censorship of any student expression that neither disrupts classwork nor invades the rights of others, and against any censorship that is not narrowly tailored to serve its purpose. In the Jan. 16, 1988, issue of The Kansas City Star, Keith Turner, also, effectively ridicules the government for exempting high school journalists from having total First Amendment rights in his political cartoon which reads: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech if we approve, or of the press but not the newspaper, or the right to petition for a redress of grievances only on the second Tuesday of March on a leap year during a hail storm.
Overall, the Court significantly cut back the First Amendment protections public high school students have been afforded for years. In the 1974 report of the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism, titled Captive Voices, made some significant findings.
Censorship is the fundmental cause of the triviality, innocuousness and uniformity that characterize the high school press. Where a free, vigorous student press does exist, there is a healthy ferment of ideas and opinions with no indication of disruption or negative side effects on the educational experience of the school. (Nelson 49)
This decision in the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier has three distinct consequences: it has barred student journalists from receiving guaranteed First Amendment rights; it allows principals the authority found in a totalitarian government; and it has forced student journalists and educators to find ways around censored stories.
To begin with, student journalists are no longer completely covered under the rights the First Amendment gives to every American citizen. This country was built on the idea of democracy and freedomwhich includes the freedom of speech to all. The purpose of the First Amendment is to open the gates wide to all ideas, no matter how unpopular or far out, and let the individual have access to all facts, (American Voices 103). Yet, the decision by the Supreme Court in the Hazelwood case has put an age limit on who is entitled to coverage by the Bill of Rights. The effect of the Hazelwood decision has placed a double standard in education and society. Students learn American history in school and are taught that everyone has 10 basic freedoms but once they enter the journalism classroom, only nine freedoms apply. Academic freedom is the freedom to teach and to learn. In defending the freedom to teach and to learn, we affirm the democratic process itself says the Connecticut State Board in 1981, (Reichman 6). According to the Journalism Education Association Policy on Prior Review, Learning must be a dynamic process, one in which the student is helped to be able to cope with change. Censorship interferes with this process and is the last resort of an educational system that is failing its now and future citizens, (Student 228).
Secondly, the decision has allowed school officials, who are in essence government officials, to have the power to censor any article as they see unfit. School officials have the right to censor a story but also to remove a possibly disruptive article or an article that opposes the schools educational mission. A federal court believed in the Butts vs. Dallas Independent School District that the Supreme Court has declared a constitutional right which school authorities must nurture and protect, not extinguish, unless they find the circumstances allow them no practical alternative, (Student 29). But in order to censor a story the school official must have proof that this decision was made by a neutral viewpoint. One example was when a Texas student newspaper surveyed a number of students about something they wanted to change about their school. On one survey, a student said, The principal. The quote was printed and the principal demanded prior review from that point on. The adviser, who was later fired, went to the school board and filed her complaint because of the act of censorship and the demand for prior reveiw. A hearing was held at which the principal revealed that he had not actually censored the newspaperit had been his wife, and the censored quote was upheld, (Student 47).The Supreme Court in the Hazelwood case let educators have greater control and let schools in its capacity as publisher of a school newspaper
disassociate itself not only from speech that would substantially interfere with its work . . . or impinge upon the rights of other students, but also from speech that is, for example, ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased or prejudice, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences. (Robbins 33)
Some officials found that in Russell Kirks article The Freedom, Responsibility and Power of the Student Press was correct in stating that there are times when the student press, abuses its privileges, and must be checked (as quoted in Gross 118). For example, Brian Smith, class valedictorian, and two other seniors at Lansing High School collaborated on an article about their high school experience so that each letter at the beginning of each paragraph spelled out an obscene word. All boys were suspended for five days and were not allowed to partake in the graduation ceremonies. On May 20, 1995, Brian asked a federal court to remove the suspension, but the court upheld the schools disciplinary action. Smith called the lawsuit a learning experience. He said the prank was a minor, insignificant thing, but he acknowledged that he had not thought about its consequences at the time, (Dauner C8).
Fianlly, the effects of this decision are only beginning to be defined through other court cases intrepreting it and students finding outside media to publish articles. Representative Michael Connolly remarked that
Hazelwood gave the administration broad discretion to determine what goes in school papers . . . If you want student papers to deal with the issues of the day like AIDS and teen pregnancy, you have to let freedom take place. The paper should prepare students for the real world. They have to learn to make their articles meaningful and address real issues. (Devault 4)
Which was the case with former Blue Springs High School journalism teacher, Valerie Halas. Two years ago, student journalists got in trouble with the school administration over publication of investigative research the students had conducted under Halas guidance. Students found places in Blue Springs that sold cigarettes to minors, a violation of law. When the newspaper staff prepared to print the story of their findings, the administration squelched in on the grounds that it would embarrass the two merchants who had been discovered. So, instead, the Jaguar Journal was published with white space where the story would have been. This, of course, drew further attention to the story, which later was published by a local newspaper. In an interview with Halas, she stated, They just don’t understand what a high school newspaper is. I think If I put out a newspaper once every three months that had just school lunch menus in it, they would be happy as clams … and I wouldnt be doing my job. Although she has been released from her duties as the newspaper adviser, four of her former student journalists, on behalf of all Blue Springs South students, filed a federal lawsuit against their former principal, Dennis Littrell; their superintendent, Charles McGraw; and the school board. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, charges that the officials violated the students’ First Amendment right to free speech and asks the court to declare the action unconstitutional. The suit also asks that Halas be reinstated and seeks $10,000 in damages, according to the Nov. 19, 1998, issue of The Kansas City Star.
Besides suing the school officials for violations, other techniques are practiced to inform the public of important events or information. Those assertive students that have strong feelings on an issue will question whether alternative outlets provide a realistic option for students wishing to express particularoften times unpopularviewpoints, (Martinson 135) stated Justice Byron White in his majority opinion in the Hazelwood case. For example a principal used tax payers money to attend a conference which was the basis of one censorship case where the principal told the students to remove the names of the administrators. The paper complied but in retaliation the student journalists at Naperville High School, in Chicago, sent the story to local newspapers. The article was printed with the names of those administrators in the Naperville Sun, the Chicago Tribune, and the Daily Herald and the community became aware of some administrators actions, (Jones 8).
States are beginning to pass Freedom of Expression bills that will place restrictions on the Hazelwood decision. This will ultimately terminate all instances of prior review and not allow advisers to be fired for allowing their students to utilize their First Amendment Rights. These anti-Hazelwood bills have passed in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusettes. Other states that have proposed such bills are Arizona, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Oregon, (States 10). The Freedom of Expression bill was vetoed by the Illinois governor even though the will of congress and the people wanted the protection for student publications. However, Arizonas and Missouris Freedom of Expression bills failed to get passed due to lack of support. But, Missouri will try for a fifth time to get the legislation through by introducing the bill this month to an assigned committee. The Limits to Liability for Student Publications will emphasize our interest in protecting our oppositions in order to get the freedom of expression for students into law. We changed the wording to make it more palpatible for legisators to pass, said Bill Hankins, Oak Park High School journalism teacher. This bill will give students the same rights as Kansas and Iowa student journalists have. It addresses the administrators liability: if the administrator doesnt practive prior review then they will not be liable for the content of the student publicationsHankins feels that if Missouri had passed this law soon maybe the Blue Springs folks wouldnt have been so vunerable to prior review.
The momumental hazel case has had major ramifications for the past decade and will continue
American Voices. New York: Phillip Morris, 1987.
The Associated Press. Schools Retain Right to Censor. The Kansas City Star. 13 January 1988: A2, A8.
Dauner, John T. Judge Upholds Suspension of Valedictorian. The Kansas City Star. 20 May 1995: C1, C8.
Devault, Darrin M., ed. The First Amndment Deserves Support. Student Press Law Center Report. 8.3 (1987): 3-4.
Essex, Nathan L. A Landmark Supreme Court Decision Grants School Authorities the Right to Censor School Sponsored Student Newspapers. Contemporary Education. 59 (1988): 139-41.
Gross, Gerald. The Responsibility of the Press. New York: Fleet, 1966.
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. 484 U.S. 260. 1988
Halas, Valerie. Personal Interview. 23 November 1998.
Jones, Melanie Lynn, and MaryAnn McKibben, eds. Paper Pulls Officials Names From Story. Student Press Law Center Report. 15.3 (1994): 8.
Martinson, David L. Hazelwood: The End of the Hidden Curriculum Sharade? The High School Journal. 75 (1992): 131-36.
Nelson, J. Captive Voices, The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism. 1974.
Other state free press bills take a slow pace. Student Press Law Center Report. (1998): 25.
Reichman, Henry. Censorship and Selection: Issues and Answers for Schools. Chicago: Publishing Services, Inc., 1993.
Robbins, Jan C. Student Press and the Hazelwood Decision. Bloomington: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1988.
Shea, Katrina, ed. Press Coverage of Hazelwood Lacking. Student Press Law Center Report. 10.2 (1989): 33, 35-7.
States Propose Student Press Protection. Student Press Law Center Report. (1997): 10.
Student Press Law Center. Law of the Student Press. Dalla: Taylor Publishing Co., 1994.
Thompson, Jake. Student Newspaper Ruling Is Deplored. The Kansas City Times. 14 January 1988: A8.
Williams, Mara Rose. Students sue over adviser’s removal. The Kansas City Star. 19 November 1998.