Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260; 108 S. Ct. 562; 98 L. Ed. 2d 592 (1988)

Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260; 108 S. Ct. 562; 98 L. Ed. 2d 592 (1988)

Facts—Staff members of Spectrum, a high school newspaper, filed a suit against the school district and school officials alleging that the principal had violated their First Amendment rights when he deleted two pages, which dealt with pregnancy and divorce, that he found to be offensive. The principal thought that the article on pregnancy did not adequately protect the anonymity of the pregnant students, friends, and parents, and noted that the article on divorce included comments by a student identified by name (later deleted) who was critical of her father’s culpability in the divorce, and who did not have an opportunity to respond. The principal also objected to sexual references as inappropriate for some younger children in the school. The U.S. District Court held that the school authorities were wrong in censoring Spectrum, the Court of Appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Question—Did the high school principal have the right to censor a high school newspaper?


ReasonsJ. White (5–3). “The public schools do not possess all of the attributes of streets, parks, and other traditional public forums.” School facilities are considered public forums if, by policy or practice, they were open “for indiscriminate use by the general public.” The government does not create a public forum “by inaction or by permitting limited discourse, but only by intentionally opening a nontraditional forum.” Student editors felt that Spectrum could publish “practically anything” but school officials retained ultimate control over what constituted responsible journalism in a school sponsored newspaper. “A decision to teach leadership skills in the context of a classroom activity hardly implies a decision to relinquish school control over that activity.”

J. Brennan authored a dissent arguing that the principal’s action was an unconstitutional and overly broad exercise of censorship over materials that were not disruptive.

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