246 F. Supp. 2d 820 (N.D. Ohio 2003)
In 2002, Wooster High School officials in Ohio confiscated the entire press run of the student newspaper, the Blade, claiming an article was potentially defamatory. The article, which argued that school officials enforced their alcohol policy inconsistently, features a girl, by name, admitting to underage drinking and getting in trouble with the school for it. The school said she never admitted to drinking and was never punished. The student editors sued the school, asking for a preliminary injunction so the paper could be released. The United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division, denied their request.
To make his decision, Judge James Gwin had to determine if the Blade was a public or nonpublic forum. As decided in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, school officials could censor nonpublic forum student newspapers, severely limiting the First Amendment rights of students. However, school officials had to provide much more compelling reasons to justify censoring public or limited public forum student newspapers.
Gwin identified nine factors to determine what kind of forum a student publication is:
- Whether the student media is part of the high school curriculum
- Whether student staff receive grades
- Whether the program is supervised by a faculty member
- Whether the school deviated from its policy of producing the paper as part of its educational curriculum
- The degree of control the administration and faculty adviser exercised
- The applicable written policy statements of the school board
- The school’s policy with respect to the forum
- The school’s practice with respect to the forum
- The nature of the student media at issue and its compatibility with expressive activity.
Gwin concluded that the Blade is a limited student forum, but that school officials could still censor this issue because they reasonably believed content was defamatory. The case provided a way to ensure schools didn’t use Hazelwood as a blanket case to censor whatever they wished.