Hazelwood School Dist. v. Kuhlmeier

484 U.S. 260 (1988)


Respondents were students in a journalism class wrote and edited a school newspaper, which was funded by the board of education and through sales of the paper.  The principal, who regularly reviewed each edition prior to publication, objected to two articles scheduled to appear in a new issue: one story described three students’ experiences with pregnancy and the other discussed the impact of divorce on students.  False names were used in the articles to protect students’ identities.  Two full pages of the newspaper were removed before publication.

Procedural History

The district court denied respondents’ request for injunctive relief, finding no First Amendment violation, and the Eighth Circuit reversed.


Did school officials violate the First Amendment rights of three students by deleting two pages of articles published in a school newspaper?

Holding / Rule

(White) No.  Reversed.  School officials “do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.”


A school “need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its ‘basic educational mission’” even if such speech could not be censored outside the school.  The newspaper was not a traditional public forum, but created as part of the school’s educational curriculum, and the journalism teacher and principal exercised ultimate control over the paper consistent with the board’s policy.  School officials were entitled to impose reasonable restrictions “to assure the participants learn whatever lessons the activity is designed to teach, that readers of listeners are not exposed to material that may be inappropriate for their level of maturity, and that the views of the individual speaker are not erroneously attributed to the school.”  The principal was reasonable in concluding that the anonymity of students mentioned in the articles was not adequately protected because of other identifying information, that parents criticized in the article were improperly denied an opportunity to defend themselves consistent with journalistic standards, and that content about students’ sexual histories and birth control was inappropriate in a publication distributed to 14-year olds.  The principal also was reasonable in excising the whole two pages instead of just the offending articles because of time constraints.

Brennan (joined by Marshall and Blackmun) dissented, concluding that the principal violated the First Amendment by censoring student speech that neither disrupted classwork nor invaded the rights of others, arguing that the Tinker standard should be applied to school-sponsored speech as well.  Mere incompatibility with the school’s pedagogical message is never sufficient justification for suppressing student expression.

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