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Wednesday, June 01, 2005


Lisa Williams

I'm surprised that none of the stories I see talking about the recent high school paper flaps mention Tinker, the Supreme Court case which basically said that students don't have First Amendment rights that the school principal can't overturn. Given this, the advent of web publishing seems to me to be a real boon to student journalism -- all they really needed from the school was money for printing anyway, which they had to pay for with their First Amendment rights.

Ari Soglin

The Student Press Law Center does a great job of explaining two key court rulings -- the Tinker and Hazlewood cases -- here:

SPLC explains that in Hazlewood (1988), "the Supreme Court said that the rights of public school students are not necessarily the same as those of adults in other settings. The student newspaper at Hazelwood East High School, it said, was not a 'forum for public expression' by students, and thus the censored students were not entitled to broad First Amendment protection.... Therefore, the Court held that the school was not required to follow the standard established in Tinker ..., a case where students were suspended from school for wearing black arm bands in protest of the Vietnam War. In that 1969 case, the Supreme Court said school officials could only limit student free expression when they could demonstrate that the expression in question would cause a material and substantial disruption of school activities or an invasion of the rights of others."

The Hazlewood ruling "said that a different test would apply to censorship by school officials of student expression in a school-sponsored activity such as a student newspaper that was not a public forum for student expression. When a school's decision to censor is 'reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns,' it will be permissible. In other words, if a school can present a reasonable educational justification for its censorship, that censorship will be allowed."

That's a pretty wide opening for school administrators, especially when funds are scarce and the budget cut argument can be used. So, I agree with Lisa that web publishing may be a boon. It could start giving administrators some pause. If you push student journalists off campus, you lose control; if you keep them under the auspices of the school, you keep an eye on what they publish. But the kind of administrator who would censor may not be the kind to think that way.

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