25 years of censorship: How Hazelwood silences students' personal, political, religious expression

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 3:45 p.m. MST

This June 27, 2012 file photo shows an American flag flying in front of the Supreme Court in Washington.

Associated Press

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Adam Goldstein, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, reported that Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Supreme Court "Hazelwood" decision to allow schools to censor student writing in school publications. The case involved student articles about teen pregnancy and divorce. The school censored the articles because school officials believed the content might be "inappropriate" for younger teens.

The Court decided schools could legally censor student expression in a school-sponsored forum for any reason that is “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” A 1994 report from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting indicates schools began using the decision almost immediately to censor student writing on many topics.

In one early case a principal used Hazelwood to justify censoring a student editorial on the Hazelwood decision itself. In the next few years schools censored student writing on "dishonest financial practices of a school coach," AIDS and the first ammendment.

Over the course of the next two decades, the decision was used by schools to justify censorship of many of forms of student expression, including:

Banning students and parents from including crosses and other religious imagery in a memorial for students at Columbine High

Preventing a student orchestra from including "Ave Maria" in a high school graduation medley;

Disciplining a high school student cheerleader for sitting out during a routine cheering the name of the basketball star who "was the subject of a criminal complaint accusing him of raping the cheerleader"

Expelling an adult graduate student for questioning her university's disciplinary and grading policies

After two and a half decades of Hazelwood, students now report censorship at school is a common occurrence. Goldstein asks, "Twenty-five years later, is it time to admit that Hazelwood is used to censor religious and personal viewpoints far more than it is to fulfill any legitimate purpose, curricular or otherwise?"

This report has been edited to correct a typing error. The Hazelwood decision was handed down in 1988, not 1998.

Gretchen Krebs has taught general and special education in New York and Utah. She is passionate about finding innovative approaches to meet the needs of all students. Contact her at gkrebs@deseretnews.com

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