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Student Press Law Explained

The First Amendment is critical for any journalist in the United States, but through the years the rights of the First Amendment have dramatically changed for student journalists. Two U.S. Supreme Court cases have shifted these rights for public school students across the nation, and Kansas has additional laws regarding student press rights.

The Tinker Decision explained
The first legal decision made about student media rights to the First Amendment was in 1969 in the Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The Supreme Court decision claimed the suspension of students who wore black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War to school was unconstitutional. The Tinker decision claimed schools could censor a student’s freedom of speech only if they could prove the student’s actions were disruptive or dangerous to others.

The Hazelwood Case explained
In 1988, the Tinker precedent was superceded by the Supreme Court decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. The Supreme Court decided that the Hazelwood School District, located outside of St. Louis, Mo., had the right to censor newspaper stories having to do with teen pregnancy and the effect of divorce on students. This decision basically stated if the school administration could provide educational reasons for censorship, it was allowed.

Kansas Law
After the Hazelwood case, First Amendment rights were cut back for student journalists. Even though this was a Supreme Court decision, the Hazelwood decision indicates the minimum amount of press freedom that students receive, but there is the option of adding more protection on an independent basis by states. Currently, only seven states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts and Oregon) have altered their laws for high school student free speech. A bill for statewide student freedom of expression is also under consideration for Nebraska. For student journalists in Kansas, The Kansas Student Free Expression Law adds more protection against administrative censorship.

If a publication ever needs legal advice or has questions, the Student Press Law Center offers free advice and help for student journalists and advisers.

Censorship Stories: The Student Press Law Center publishes stories every week about high school students throughout the country dealing with censorship issues. Here are some recent stories to check out:


  • Minnesota’s Mounds View High School’s student newspaper, The Viewer, has stopped publication of the paper until the prior review policy their administration currently has in place is lifted. The school is claiming this policy has always been in effect, but both the students and the adviser say this is the first time the administration has used it. The principal asked for papers to not be distributed because she felt one of the stories in the issue violated the privacy of two students interviewed, even though the students consented to being interviewed. To read the full story visit the the Student Press Law Center’s website at http://www.splc.org/newsflash.asp?id=2049


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