Effort to ‘Cure Hazelwood’ gains momentum on first National Hazelwood Day of Action

Student journalists and advisers from across the country raised their voices to #CureHazelwood on the Student Press Law Center’s first Hazelwood Day of Action. The event included Facebook Lives with the likes of student press advocates Mary Beth Tinker and Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey, a webinar on the history of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier decision and a ton of great photos, videos and messages from students on what getting rid of school censorship would mean to them.

What’s Hazelwood and why do we need to cure it? In 1988, the principal of Hazelwood East High School in Missouri pulled several stories out of the school newspaper, saying divorce and teen pregnancy were inappropriate topics for students. Members of the newspaper staff sued and, on Jan. 13, 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that schools could censor student publications in some circumstances. The decision limited a lot of the freedoms students had won in Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969. Much of the censorship today’s students face stems directly from the Hazelwood case. Thus, Hazelwood Day of Action. 

Facebook Live

The day kicked off with a series of eleven short Facebook Live broadcasts with notable figures — students, activists and lawyers — talking about issues related to Hazelwood and censorship of students. 

Lindsie Trego, a law student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, conducted an extensive survey of college media censorship. She talks to us about the concerning results: both the frequency of censorship and the topics that are most often censored.

“One third of the whole population of college newspaper editors at public four-year colleges in the United States feel like their administrators don’t want them talking about sexual assault,” Trego said. “I am just amazed.”

Later, Mary Beth Tinker (with her signature black armband and a Cure Hazelwood bracelet, of course) went live from the SPLC’s office in D.C. to talk about her experience as a youth taking on the U.S. Supreme Court in her landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines. Tinker spoke on the legacy of her historic victory, and she said she’s proud to see student journalists now tackling difficult issues like gentrification and hate speech.

“Without controversy, there is no democracy.”

The day wrapped up with a conversation between the SPLC’s Senior Legal Consultant Mike Hiestand and Cathy Kuhlmeier Frey, where the two discussed the history of the Hazelwood ruling and the problems that have stemmed from it – including self censorship. 

“Do it. Write it. Run it. Push for your rights, because if you don’t, you’re gonna have them walked on.””

Ironically, Frey said her son was censored while working at his high school newspaper.

Watch part two

SPLC Monthly Webinar — Hazelwood edition

Hiestand joined two former SPLC executive directors, Frank LoMonte (2008-2017) and Mark Goodman (1985-2007) for a webinar explaining Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and its destructive legacy of censorship. The three legal minds discussed the changes brought on by the monumental decision and how the SPLC handled these changes.

Prior to Hazelwood, it was far more difficult to censor school publications because of the Tinker standard, Goodman said. In addition, LoMonte looked at the cultural impact of the decision and how the court’s priorities shifted between Tinker (1969) and Hazelwood (1988).

“We’re going to sacrifice the First Amendment rights of our students, so that the public doesn’t get confused that the school might be somewhat be responsible for a controversial political editorial,” LoMonte said.

Your support for the movement

Throughout the first annual Hazelwood Day of Action we saw an outpouring of support from students, teachers, journalists and advocates across the country. All day long, there were hundreds of tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram photos that told stories of censorship and called for protections against Hazelwood.

The day also served as a call to action to support state New Voices legislation, which exists in 13 states and is currently under consideration in six states. Bills under consideration were rejected in Indiana on Feb. 5 and South Dakota on Feb. 7.

Because 2018 is the 30th anniversary of the decision and grassroots New Voices coalitions are growing, the SPLC is continuing the movement by launching the Hazelwood @ 30 project, where we encourage you to plan #CureHazelwood events all year long. To tell us about your event, register it here.

One of the most exciting parts of Hazelwood Day of Action was how many people across the country participated by throwing their own events and sharing their stories:

See even more responses here. Thank you to everyone who participated!

SPLC staff writer Taylor Potter can be reached by email or at (202) 478-1926. He is on Twitter @wmtaylorpotter.

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