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Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier: Censoring Student Journalists

Dominick is an aspiring writer who enjoys researching many different topics.

Censorship in School Systems

Students in school systems across the United States frequently face censorship and suppression, whether it comes from school officials or their fellow peers. Students have limited opportunities when it comes to voicing their opinions and stances on issues. Options range from staging a walk-out from classes (which is typically shut down quickly) or writing their thoughts in a school newspaper.

However, many high schools do not even offer a student-run newspaper, thus discouraging students to speak out. My own high school, for example, did not have a student paper, which meant I was unable to make my voice heard unless I was willing to face the possible consequences of being suspended or judged.

Students should have a platform from which to educate their fellow students and assert themselves on issues that take place where they learn and in the world around them.

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier

Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier is a prime example of a case where students’ opinions were silenced by authority figures. The case involved three journalism students who attended Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, Missouri. Cathy Kuhlmeier, along with two of her fellow classmates, worked for the school newspaper called The Spectrum. As part of their duties, they interviewed students across the school for their stories and overall opinions on different topics. Through this research, they wrote two articles, one revolving around the struggles of a teenage pregnancy and another on a family divorce. In the final publication, names were altered so the students’ identities were protected.

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The principal of the time, Robert Reynolds, then reviewed the articles and felt the topics were too inappropriate. As a result, he prohibited the articles and restricted the entire pages the articles were on from being published. The students were infuriated and did not understand how their material was offensive. This is when Kuhlmeier and her two peers brought the issue to court against the Hazelwood School District.

The Court Process

The first court the case was brought to was the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. During this ruling, the court supported Hazelwood and believed that the principal’s actions were not a violation of the First Amendment rights. In order to win the case, Kuhlmeier appealed, which then sent the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In this ruling, the final decision swapped and was in favor of Kuhlmeier. Ultimately, Hazelwood appealed, and the Supreme Court took on the problematic case.

The majority ruling was led Justice White, along with Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice O’Connor and Justice Scalia. They all believed that principal Reynolds had not violated the First Amendment and had the right to remove the articles from the school newspaper. The dissenting opinion was orchestrated by Justice Brennan, who was joined by Justices Marshall and Blackmun. They argued for the fact that the students have their own individual rights, and since the students omitted the named in their articles, the topics were not inappropriate.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, the dissenting opinion did not matter since the Supreme court vote was 5–3 in favor of Hazelwood School District. Three students were unable to publish beneficial information for the student body in their own newspaper. The principal had to interfere and take away the students’ access to free speech. Even though this case did take place in 1988, this is still a common occurrence in schools. Oppression is found throughout classrooms in all different forms. In this case, voices were completely shut down just because one person felt the information was offensive.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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