Kentucky State case judge refuses to budge, students to appeal

KENTUCKY — The fight for college student press freedom is officially on. After almost four months of waiting, the first judge to rule that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier was applicable to college student publications ruled last Thursday that he had not changed his mind.

The case, which began after administrators at Kentucky State University temporarily removed the student newspaper adviser from her position because of the content of the publication and confiscated all copies of the student yearbook, citing primarily grammatical and stylistic errors, now looks to be the first real legal test of Hazelwood’s applicability to college student media.

The 1988 Hazelwood decision upheld a principal’s censorship of articles from a Missouri high school student newspaper and resulted in a significant cutback of the First Amendment protection available to most high school student journalists.

Arguing that Judge Joseph Hood, in reaching his initial decision last November, had misapplied Hazelwood and had also relied on a Massachusetts case that was later tossed out, the student plaintiffs had filed a motion with the court to alter, amend or vacate his earlier ruling.

In denying their motion last week, the judge said that the students’ arguments changed nothing.

“The plaintiffs have not pointed out, or cited, any more persuasive authority than they originally did….The court finds Hazelwood to be the starting point in an analysis of whether a publication is a public forum, regardless of the fact that Hazelwood purely dealt with a high school publication.”

The students have said that they will file an appeal with the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, perhaps as early as this week.

– STOP –

Copy of Judge Hood’s March 5, 1998, ruling.