|An SPLC White Paper
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier
A Complete Guide
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In January 1988, the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in the case Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. The Court upheld the decision of public high school administrators at Hazelwood East High School in suburban St. Louis, Mo., to censor stories concerning teen pregnancy and the effects of divorce on children from a school-sponsored student newspaper. The ruling was a dramatic break from nearly two decades of law that had given student journalists extensive First Amendment protections.
While the Hazelwood decision changed the free speech balance, courts since Hazelwood have made it clear the case has important limitations. School officials — no matter what they may believe or claim — do not have an unlimited license to censor; all students retain significant First Amendment protections.
First published just after the Supreme Court issued its decision, the Student Press Law Center’s Hazelwood Guide has been frequently updated to reflect new court cases and laws, and remains the authoritative source on who is (and who is not) affected by the decision and what it means (and doesn’t mean) for America’s student media.
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the nation’s only legal assistance agency devoted exclusively to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment.
Our website contains guides with more specific information about censorship and the free speech protections available to public high school, public college, private high school, private college and independent student media (including off-campus websites and social media).