“A Question of Speech” by Roberto Torres Velez   

January 18, 2019.

The First Amendment protects the right to freedom of speech among many other given rights, even in something as simple as a school newspaper. But on January 13, 1988 a landmark decision was made by the supreme court of the United States. Its majority opinion set a precedent that school newspapers, and drama productions are not normally protected from the administrative censorship under First Amendment Law.

Most of the Supreme Court justices held that the school principal was entitled to assume the position of which to censor the given articles. Associate justice Byron White stated that officials had never intended the school newspaper to be a public forum, and that educators do not infringe on First Amendment rights when exercising control over student speech in school sponsored activities. White went on to say that, “so long as their actions are responsibly and reasonably related to legitimate educational concerns”, Administrators do not actively break first Amendment rights when the control over student speech in school-sponsored activities is exercised. The big problem, however, is if censoring the voice of high school students is a question of the first amendment, after all, a voice is still being silenced.  

Free speech on campus has emerged as a large controversy in recent years, amid a rash of speakers being uninvited or violently protested, and the many that lose their right to a voice due to difference in opinions, issues that were once handled in-house but now, managed by the courts. The Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier (1988) case established the policy that personnel must meet to limit students’ freedom of expression in secondary schools. schools may exercise prior restraint regarding the “style and content” of a student newspaper so long as their action is “not unreasonable”, whereas there previously had to be compelling evidence to warrant censorship. This ruling does not, however, apply to personal or non-school-sponsored communication, such as off-campus publications, unless that communication interferes with school discipline or the rights of others. In response to the ruling, some students created web-based publications not managed by schools. Some individual states have also responded with laws designating student newspapers as public forums which are able to offer them greater First Amendment protection. While the Sleuth has provided the basics into the given topic, it’s up to the reader to decide where they stand.