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The case, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier is a Supreme Court case of First Amendment rights. The respondents were three former high school students who were also staff members of Hazelwood East High School's newspaper, Spectrum, who alleged that their First Amendment rights were violated when two pages of the May 13, 1983 issue of Spectrum were removed because of the content of two articles. The two articles deemed inappropriate by Principal Reynolds, discussed pregnancy and divorce. The newspaper was written and edited by a journalism class as part of the curriculum. In accordance with school policy, the teacher in charge of the class submitted the proofs to Principal Reynolds, “who objected to the pregnancy story because the pregnant students, although not named, might be identified from the text,” and because the content included sexual references that may be offensive to younger students. He objected to the divorce story because the version he received identified a student who complained of her father’s demeanor towards herself and her mother, although the final version made no reference to her name. Thinking there was no time to repair the articles before publication, Principal Reynolds removed them and the pages they were on also removing several unobjectionable articles.

“Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; to the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” (Bill Of Rights)

The above amendment is the one in question of being broken.

The Federal District was first to hear the case. Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court that the students First Amendment rights were not broken. They came to this conclusion on the premise that The Board Of Education allocated funds from its annual budget to fund the printing of Spectrum, and that the school authorities had never “by policy or by practice” opened the paper to “indiscriminate use by the general public,” therefore making it a private publication allowing school officials to impose reasonable restrictions on the speech of students, teachers and other members of the school community. The F.D. also found that the teacher had not made a bad decision on the removal of the articles on the basis that comments made in the pregnancy article could identify the students even though their names were not used and that some content was not suitable for the younger readers. The deletion of the divorce article was also found to be justified because it did not follow journalism fairness rules taught in the class.

The Court of Appeals reversed the Federal District’s decision saying that “Spectrum was not only ‘a part of the school adopted curriculum,’ but also a public forum, because the newspaper was ‘intended to be and operated as a conduit for student viewpoint.’” And because the school’s “Statement of Policy published in the September 14, 1982 of Spectrum declared that ’Spectrum, as a student-press publication, accepts all rights implied by the First Amendment;’” The Court of Appeals found no evidence that Principal Reynolds could have foreseen that the articles would cause discord in the school, or in any way disrupt the normal workings of the school. Accordingly, the court held that school officials had violated respondents First Amendment rights by deleting the two pages of the newspaper.

The Supreme Court granted writ certiorari and reversed the decision once more. They found that “Students in the public schools do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the school house.’ Yet students ‘are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings.’” It also found that the Court of Appeals based its ruling on finding Spectrum to be a public forum, which it did not, stating that the school’s policy was that school-sponsored publications were subject to the same scrutiny as normal class assignments. The Supreme Court therefore ruled 5 to 3 (Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun dissenting), that no violation of First Amendment rights had occurred.


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