Censorship of student press widespread

Three-fourths of both high school principals and advisers at schools aroundthe country say their student newspapers are censored, a recent surveyrevealed.

Of those principals and advisers who agreed that their newspapers werecensored, 39 percent of the principals and 40 percent of the advisers indicatedthat the censorship was done by the adviser. Sixty-one percent of principalsand 60 percent of advisers said it was by the principal.

All of which is no surprise to Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver, professor andassociate dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at FloridaInternational University.

“The situation has not gotten any better for student media at studentnewspapers nationwide,” said Kopenhaver, “There’s still a great deal ofcensorship.”

Kopenhaver, along with J. William Click, chair of the Department ofMass Communication at Winthrop University, conducted a survey for the Associationfor Education in Journalism and Mass Communication convention last August,polling 433 advisers and 384 principals at high schools throughout thecountry. Eighty-six percent of the principals were from public schoolsand 14 percent were from private schools.

The survey revealed that censorship among high school newspapers hasincreased slightly since their last survey, which was conducted in 1989just after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Hazelwood v.Kuhlmeier. That decision limited the First Amendment protections providedto students working for school-sponsored publications.

But the results of the survey conducted by Click and Kopenhaver priorto Hazelwood showed that censorship of student publications wasfirmly entrenched in high schools even before the Supreme Court decision.

“[Hazelwood] did not have a tremendous impact,” Kopenhaver said.”Censorship had already been going on.”

Most principals and advisers agree. Almost 60 percent of both principalsand advisers polled for the survey said their newspapers have always beencensored.

“What Hazelwood did was reinforce in the minds of principals,primarily, that they can do this,” Kopenhaver said.

She added that this belief stems from a lack of understanding aboutthe meaning of the Hazelwood ruling on behalf of principals.

“[The newspaper at Hazelwood East High School] was a very differentkind of newspaper than the majority of high school newspapers in the country,”Kopenhaver said. “[Principals] don’t realize that most newspapers in thiscountry have always operated as forums for free student expression. Ifthey have, the Court has clearly said that you go on operating that way.”

The Court ruled in 1988 that Hazelwood East High School’s student newspaperwas not considered a public forum for expression because it had previouslybeen subject to prior review by administrators.

Click and Kopenhaver’s survey showed that only 18 percent of principalsagreed that the “Hazelwood decision was limited and does not applyto student newspapers defined as public forums for student expression.”Advisers were not far off-only one-fourth agreed with the statement.

Kopenhaver emphasized the need for more education about student pressrights for students, advisers and principals, and she said everyone involvedin journalism has an obligation to help.

“It is a constant effort,” she said. “We can never let down. We mustcontinue.”