Missouri case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
There is more than one standard to the First Amendment freedom of speech, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the 1988 Missouri case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier in which a school principal was sued because, as a public official, he removed articles from a school newspaper prior to publication. He was sued for restricting free speech.
Together with the 1965 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District the Court has established limits to student expression of free speech. Specifically in Hazelwood, the Court found that school-sponsored publications and events like assemblies may be subject to limitations, even censorship, according to the judgement of school administrators.
Regarding the Hazelwood case, a district court sided with school officials but the state appellate court overturned that decision saying that the school newspaper could not be censored unless it was a threat to student discipline (inciting wrongdoing) or infringing on a student’s rights. The Supreme Court voted 5-3 to allow reasonable administrative censorship of student newspapers as they are considered learning tools used under supervision by journalism students.
A previous (1983) case testing limits of student’s free speech was Bethel School District v. Frasier, which the Supreme Court decided similarly in favor of school administrators, allowed a student to be disciplined for a speech full of sexual innuendo. He sued after being barred from speaking at his graduation ceremony despite being a favorite of the student body. State appellate court sided with Frasier but the Supreme Court overturned that decision citing the use of vulgarities and the potential for disruption.
In 1965 during a period of unrest and students testing civil liberties, the Tinker case protested school administrators’ punishing students for a silent, peaceful demonstration against the Vietnam war by wearing black armbands. The Supreme Court upheld their right to such freedom of expression despite a school policy against armbands because the armbands did not seek to incite any disruptive behavior. But in the 1980s school administrators were reining in free expression, including in speech.
In Hazelwood, students working on the school newspaper sought to publish articles on teen pregnancy and divorce, which the school principal removed for a number of reasons, including the possibility that the pregnant students could be identified despite using pseudonyms, and a lack of time for a family mentioned (not by name) in the divorce article to respond with any concerns prior to publication. The Court decided these actions were within the administration’s rights as supervisory to a student newspaper.