[Editor’s note: The Journalism Education Association Board is voting on a motion to  support the AEJMC Resolution discussed in this post. The deadline for voting is April 16.]

by Don Corrigan
Professor, Webster University
AEJMC Scholastic Journalism Division member

Don Corrigan

Don Corrigan

This year marks a sad anniversary year for high school newspaper advisers and their students. For 25 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court made its ruling in the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier (1988) case, a dramatic setback for student press rights.

Of course, this anniversary is also the bane of university newspaper advisers and their students, because lower courts have been trying to apply the logic of Hazelwood in college media cases ever since 1988.  Some U.S. courts would like to put the same curbs on college media as were sanctioned for high school media in the Hazelwood case

With that in mind, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) issued a resolution this April on the anniversary of Hazelwood. The college media organization’s statement reads, in part:

jea_resolution“The AEJMC Board of Directors declares that the Hazelwood level of control over student journalistic and editorial expression is   incompatible with the effective teaching of journalistic skills, alues and practices at the collegiate level, and that institutions of post secondary education should forswear reliance on Hazelwood as a legitimate source of authority for the governance of student and educator expression.”

In a recent editorial in the school newspaper at Kirkwood High School in suburban St. Louis, editor Claire Salzman and staffers also  took issue with the 1988 high court’s 5-3 decision. Salzman argued that many school administrators still believe, as they did in the  Hazelwood situation, that if papers don’t cover problems like drugs,  alcoholism, bullying, birth control, crime – the controversial topics  will simply go away.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Salzman.  “Publications do not write about these topics to encourage them; no one wants a teenager to get pregnant or parents to get divorced, but  it happens nonetheless.

“If papers refuse to cover these topics, they are being cowardly. If administrators remove stories like these, they are being irresponsible.”

“Brutal Censorship”

In the 1988 Hazelwood decision, Justice Byron White wrote “that educators 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…”

In a harsh dissent, Justice William Brennan wrote: “the case before us aptly illustrates how readily school officials (and courts) can camouflage viewpoint discrimination as the ‘mere’ protection of students from sensitive topics.” Brennan accused the majority of approving “brutal censorship.”

Mary Beth Tinker spoke to high school journalism students and community members at a journalism conference held at Webster University in St. Louis. Photo by Rebecca Barr, Tu Square Studio

Mary Beth Tinker spoke to high school journalism students and community members at a journalism conference held at Webster University in St. Louis. Photo by Rebecca Barr, Tu Square Studio

The 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court was a triumph for free expression, in contrast to Hazelwood. It began when 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker and her brother wore black armbands to school in Des Moines to protest the Vietnam War.

An outspoken critic of the Hazelwood decision, Tinker spoke at Webster University in March at an event attended by more than 750 high school journalism students and community members. This was a dry run for what she hopes will be the “Tinker Tour,” a First Amendment Bus Tour of schools all over the country.

Check the next blog post for a summary of the Tinker case and information about the planned “Tinker Tour.”