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"I'll need to see that before it goes to press." Almost every journalism student in America hears these ten inevitable words before the distribution of their school's newspapers. Recently, student journalists have been heavily censored due to the 1988 Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court decision. One of the major consequences of this decision was that since the Supreme Court felt that the First Amendment, stating that, "Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech or of the press," (Amendment I, A6), was no longer sufficient to protect student journalists, the states would have to figure out a solution themselves (Foerstel 217). Journalism students across the country are seeing the effects of the Hazelwood decision through administrative censorship of their school's newspaper.
In 1988, the Unites States Supreme Court made the decision that, "High School principal's deletion from school-sponsored student newspaper of pages containing articles he reasonably considered objectionable held not violate students' First Amendment rights," (Hazelwood). Earlier, in 1987, the May 13th edition of Hazelwood East's newspaper was scheduled to contain articles student's experiences with pregnancy and divorce. The principal decided to withhold these articles from the final edition of the newspaper, on the basis that they were deemed obscene (Hazelwood). The students fought the censorship, saying that for something to be legally obscene, it must be "patently offensive, appeal to prurient interest, and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific values," (Martinson 3). The students took the principal to court, claiming that he violated their First Amendment rights. Evidently, the students lost the long-fought battle in court, whose decision forever hindered student journalists' voices in the media.
The ongoing fight for student freedom of expression was not just evident in the Hazelwood case, but was evident in many cases before it. Only three years before, in the case of Bethel v. Fraser, the United States Supreme Court said:
Schools must teach by example the shared values of a civilized social order and to this end the constitutional rights of students in public schools are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults and other settings (Foerstel 219).
This decision only infuriated student journalists, so they started publishing more controversial material in their newspapers. Since the 1970s and early 1980s were times of freedom for students to print controversial material in newspapers, students fought to retail this freedom after Bethel (Simpson).
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There are many mixed feelings about the Hazelwood decision. One year after the United States Supreme Court made its decision, a survey of high school teachers showed that 71% of teachers saw this as a fair ruling (Martinson 2). Since this ruling, the Student Press Law Center reports that school officials have censored a broad range of topics, ranging from student drug abuse to teacher salary negotiations to school board elections. Student responses have also been negative. The Hazelwood decision has had a "chilling effect on the ability and willingness of student journalists to write about serious issues and the problems that face kids today," (Simpson).