Hazelwood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier
484 U.S. 260 (1988)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Hazelwood Sch. Dist. v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988)

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier

No. 86-836

Argued October 13, 1987

Decided January 13, 1988

484 U.S. 260

Syllabus

Respondents, former high school students who were staff members of the school's newspaper, filed suit in Federal District Court against petitioners, the school district and school officials, alleging that respondents' First Amendment rights were violated by the deletion from a certain issue of the paper of two pages that included an article describing school students' experiences with pregnancy and another article discussing the impact of divorce on students at the school. The newspaper was written and edited by a journalism class, as part of the school's curriculum. Pursuant to the school's practice, the teacher in charge of the paper submitted page proofs to the school's principal, who objected to the pregnancy story because the pregnant students, although not named, might be identified from the text, and because he believed that the article's references to sexual activity and birth control were inappropriate for some of the younger students. The principal objected to the divorce article because the page proofs he was furnished identified by name (deleted by the teacher from the final version) a student who complained of her father's conduct, and the principal believed that the student's parents should have been given an opportunity to respond to the remarks or to consent to their publication. Believing that there was no time to make necessary changes in the articles if the paper was to be issued before the end of the school year, the principal directed that the pages on which they appeared be withheld from publication even though other, unobjectionable articles were included on such pages. The District Court held that no First Amendment violation had occurred. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: Respondents' First Amendment rights were not violated.

(a) First Amendment rights of students in the public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings, and must be applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment. A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission, even though the government could not censor similar speech outside the school.

(b) The school newspaper here cannot be characterized as a forum for public expression. School facilities may be deemed to be public forums

Page 484 U. S. 261

only if school authorities have, by policy or by practice, opened the facilities for indiscriminate use by the general public, or by some segment of the public, such as student organizations. If the facilities have instead been reserved for other intended purposes, communicative or otherwise, then no public forum has been created, and school officials may impose reasonable restrictions on the speech of students, teachers, and other members of the school community. The school officials in this case did not deviate from their policy that the newspaper's production was to be part of the educational curriculum and a regular classroom activity under the journalism teacher's control as to almost every aspect of publication. The officials did not evince any intent to open the paper's pages to indiscriminate use by its student reporters and editors, or by the student body generally. Accordingly, school officials were entitled to regulate the paper's contents in any reasonable manner.

(c) The standard for determining when a school may punish student expression that happens to occur on school premises is not the standard for determining when a school may refuse to lend its name and resources to the dissemination of student expression. Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U. S. 503, distinguished. Educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities, so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.

(d) The school principal acted reasonably in this case in requiring the deletion of the pregnancy article, the divorce article, and the other articles that were to appear on the same pages of the newspaper.

795 F.2d 1368, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 484 U. S. 277.

Page 484 U. S. 262

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Primary Holding

The First Amendment offers weaker protections to curricular student newspapers established by public schools than to newspapers that have been established independently by students or are designed as forums for student expression.

Facts

Students in a journalism class at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis County, Missouri collaborated on producing a student newspaper known as The Spectrum. The newspaper, which appeared every three weeks, was funded in part by the school district's Board of Education, since its sales to school and community members did not support it financially.

The principal of the school, Robert Reynolds, objected to two stories that were planned for the May 13, 1983 issue of the newspaper when they were submitted to him by Howard Emerson, the instructor, according to the usual policy. His concerns related to the privacy of students interviewed in the stories, which addressed teen pregnancy and divorce. He felt that interviewing three students who had been pregnant was inadvisable because they could be recognized by other students who knew them, and he also felt that a story criticizing a student's father for his relationship with the student's mother should not be published without giving the parents a right to respond or consent.

As a result, Reynolds simply published a version of the newspaper that omitted the two pages on which the stories were printed. (Five other articles were eliminated in the process.) However, he made this decision following discussions with his supervisors on the school board and did not tell the students before publication or give them an opportunity to address the issue. Three students, one editor and two reporters, brought a claim. The editor pointed out that the newspaper had covered similar topics before without negative consequences.

The students were unsuccessful in federal district court, which viewed controlling student speech as important to the proper educational functioning of schools when there was a substantial reason to regulate it. By contrast, the Eighth Circuit relied on First Amendment jurisprudence regarding public forums in holding that censorship of a student newspaper was inappropriate without proof that it would substantially interfere with school discipline or the rights of other students.

Opinions

Majority

  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist
  • John Paul Stevens
  • Sandra Day O'Connor
  • Antonin Scalia

Using a more deferential standard of review than the Eighth Circuit, the Court seemed to apply a rational basis test that allowed schools to control the speech of students in school activities if the restriction on speech bore a reasonable relation to a legitimate concern. White noted that the school's dominant role in operating the newspaper meant that it was not actually a public forum but served a pedagogical purpose. According to him, speech that is contrary to a school's educational mission can be barred from being released in that environment.

However, there were some limitations on the decision. It did not strike down state or municipal laws on this specific topic, simply finding that the First Amendment does not provide any additional inherent protections. White also hinted that the ruling applied only to secondary schools, where the students are children, rather than colleges or other educational institutions with adult students.

Dissent

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

Joined by Justices with a notably expansive view of First Amendment protections, Brennan argued that the Court should have shown more respect for the individual rights of students. He felt that the principal acted in a manner inconsistent with democratic principles and thus set a poor example for children through his official conduct.

Recused

  • Anthony M. Kennedy (Author)

Case Commentary

Courts are divided on whether the decision applies to universities, so the Court may need to return to this issue in that context. It is also important to note that Hazelwood does not apply to student speech outside the school and school-sponsored activities. The school had the right to control the newspaper because it provided its funding. If it had been supported independently, such as through its own sales, the principal probably could not have exercised control over censoring articles.

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