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Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier

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Brief Fact Summary.

The Spectrum, the school-sponsored newspaper of Hazelwood East High School (Hazelwood), was written and edited by students. The school principal found two of the articles in the issue to be inappropriate, and ordered that the pages on which the articles appeared be withheld from publication.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Schools may restrict what is published in student newspapers.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

It is clear that Mr. Stergos was the final authority with respect to almost every aspect of the production and publication of Spectrum, including its content.

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Facts.

The Spectrum, the school-sponsored newspaper of Hazelwood East High School (Hazelwood), was written and edited by students. In May 1983, the school principal, received the page proofs for the May issue. The principal found two of the articles in the issue to be inappropriate, and ordered that the pages on which the articles appeared be withheld from publication. One article described three Hazelwood students’ experiences with pregnancy; the other discussed the impact of divorce on students at the school. The principal believed that the article’s references to sexual activity and birth control were inappropriate for some of the younger students at the school. Additionally, the principal was concerned that even though the pregnancy story used false names to keep the girls’ identities a secret, the pregnant students would still possibly be identifiable from the text. Kuhlmeier and two other former Hazelwood students brought suit.

Issue.

Did the principal’s deletion of the articles violate the students’ rights under the First Amendment?

Held.

No, the principal’s deletion of the articles did not violate the students’ rights under the First Amendment.

Dissent.

Justice Brennan

Preserving the school’s educational image is not a legitimate reason for eliminating the articles. The articles were not proven to disrupt the operation of the school in any way.

Discussion.

The First Amendment rights of students in the public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings. The First Amendment also does not require schools to affirmatively promote particular types of student speech. Schools must be able to set high standards for student speech disseminated under their auspices. In the case of a school student-run newspaper, this activity may fairly be characterized as part of the school curriculum, regardless of whether it occurs in a traditional classroom setting.  The principal here did not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the content of student speech because this action was “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”


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