Do Student Press Rights Start … and Stop?
States History, Civics, Journalism, Media Studies
United States Supreme Court decisions have taken student journalists
on quite a roller coaster ride since 1969. The journey began with
a ringing endorsement of freedom of expression, within certain educational
limitations; then a warning that those limitations might be more
strict than first imagined; then a decision that handed principals
and school administrators strong, though still not unlimited, control
over many high school student publications, right down to the details
of grammar and writing style.
In 1943 in West
Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme
Court recognized that public school students have First Amendment
rights. Twenty-six years later in Tinker
v. Des Moines School Independent Community School District,
the Supreme Court first gave a specific standard for protection
of students’ First Amendment rights. The only control given to school
administrators was the right to punish school-sponsored student
speech that significantly disrupted the work and discipline of the
school or interfered with the rights of others.
In December 1965, 12 students were sent home from schools in Des
Moines, Iowa. The high school and middle school students were wearing
black armbands to protest American involvement in Vietnam. In January
1966, three of these students — 16-year-old Christopher Eckhardt,
15-year-old John Tinker and his 13-year-old sister Mary Beth — decided
to sue the school board. Their belief that their First Amendment
rights were violated resulted in the February 1969 Supreme Court
decision in Tinker v. Des Moines School Independent Community
School District, a landmark case in students’ rights.
School District No. 403 v. Fraser in 1986 extended to school
administrators the right to punish school-sponsored student speech
that was contrary to the values the school sought to promote. Because
Bethel did not deal with student publications, the assumption was
that Tinker could still apply to student media. But the tone
and model of Bethel — control of school-sponsored student expression
reflective of values the school wants to teach — suggested, two
years before Hazelwood that if a press rights case came to the High
Court, the same rationale applied in Bethel would also apply to
an official student publication.
In 1988, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier took that
next step in limiting student expression.
Through a study of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community
School District and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier
students will be introduced to their First Amendment rights and
the limits to their freedom of speech and press in school.
- Students do have First Amendment rights.
- Student expression may be limited in school. Educators may regulate
student speech that is part of a school-sponsored student activity
and inconsistent with the school’s basic educational mission.
The Hazelwood decision modified the Tinker decision,
but it did not overturn it.
- The Hazelwood decision need not apply to student publications
that are a “public forum” by “policy or practice.”
If you and your students have not already done so, you
may want to discuss the First Amendment and this curriculum’s First
Principles. The list of First Principles was developed to explain
in practical, everyday terms just what the First Amendment means.
Activities in this lesson relate to all of the First Principles
and are especially relevant to the following:
- The First Amendment affirms the freedom of the individual.
- Free expression is the foundation — the cornerstone — of democracy.
- The First Amendment tells the government to keep its “hands
off” our religion, our ideas and our ability to express ourselves.
In November 1999, 17-year-old Marina Hennessy, a junior at Avon
High School in Indiana, wrote an article on hazing for Echo,
the school newspaper, despite the principal’s efforts to prevent
Hennessy from writing it and the athletic director’s accusations
of yellow journalism. Football
Fun or Serious Business relates the steps that Marina took after
she heard students talking about summer football camp. After each
step, you are to ask your students what they would do. Use this
scholastic press freedom case study to get students to talk about
freedom of expression in school.
- Give students copies of
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.
Read and discuss the historical context and facts of Tinker,
then answer the questions.
may provide students with a summary of Bethel
School District No. 403 v. Fraser or proceed to procedure
- Either before or during
discussion of the Hazelwood case, students should be introduced
to the “public forum” concept. Ask students what it means to “get
on a soap box.” Familiarize students with Speaker’s Corner at
Hyde Park in London where Britons do stand on a soap box to exercise
their right to free speech. Why do Americans value freedom of
expression? Give students copies of “Newspaper
as a Public Forum”. After reading about Zucker v. Panitz,
discuss the questions provided to establish an understanding of
what a public forum is.
- Give students copies
of Case Summary:
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Read and discuss
the situation at Hazelwood East High School that led the Supreme
Court to review the case. Answer the questions and discuss the
Supreme Court decision.
- When student
journalists wish to protect their First Amendment rights, they
must, by practice or statement, establish their student medium
as a public forum. Determine when and under what circumstances
it is legally permissible for your school’s officials to censor
your student publications. Answer the questions found on “The
SPLC First Amendment Rights Diagram,” a flow chart designed
by the Student Press Law Center.
do Tinker, Bethel and Hazelwood decisions
apply in contemporary situations? Do “It’s Your Decision” activity
with students. We provide four activities from which you may select
an activity appropriate for your students: It’s
Your Decision: Name That Player, It’s
Your Decision: Block That Site, It’s
Your Decision: Whose Photo Is It? and It’s
Your Decision: Punishment for a Personal Web Site? Ask
students to apply what they know of the Tinker standard
and Hazelwood decision to these more recent situations.
In each activity, students should be given the basic situation
and three choices. Teachers are provided the real situation and
background information for use during discussion.
- In March 2001, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development and the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center announced
a nationwide initiative to establish First
Amendment Schools. These public elementary, middle and high
schools will be models of teaching students the rights and responsibilities
of citizenship and democracy and students practicing their First
Amendment freedoms in the school setting.
In this lesson, your students have been introduced to important
Supreme Court decisions concerning student press rights. They
have discussed the application of these decisions in real-life
situations. Tell students about the First Amendment Schools initiative.
Ask them to assume they are delegates to a conference to plan
model guidelines for First Amendment Schools. Although First Amendment
Schools will protect all five rights — freedoms of speech, religion,
press, assembly and the right to petition your delegation’s
assignment focuses on scholastic press rights. Make a list of
guidelines for student free expression that your delegates will
propose at the conference. You might refer to the Student Press
Law Center’s Model
Guidelines for Student Media for examples.
Review the staff manuals of your school’s student publications.
Are they as complete as they should be? Use the Model
Guidelines for Student Media prepared by the Student Press
Law Center to evaluate your provisions.
- Six states (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and
Massachusetts) have state student free expression laws and two
states (Pennsylvania and Washington) have state administrative
codes that address student rights and responsibilities. If you
live in one of these eight states, read the document that applies
to your student free expression. Links to these documents can
be found on the Student
Press Law Center Web site.
Discuss the following questions with students. Why do public high
school media want this legislation? What might school officials
see as the drawbacks? If you do not have such legislation where
you live, do you think your school would benefit from it? Why
or why not?
the application of the Tinker and Hazelwood decisions
to independent student publications. Independent student publications
produced without school resources such as “underground newspapers”
are still protected by the Tinker standard. Do students
at your school produce and distribute any such publications?
Outside of school, students free expression rights are largely
the same as those of any other members of the community. What
are some means by which students can publish their news or opinions
outside of school?
If your students have considered publishing their own student
publication, they might first want to check out the Student Press
Law Center’s “Surviving
Underground” guide which will help them to understand their
rights — as well as the important responsibilities that go along
with being their own publisher. Students publishing their own
Web site may want to consult the SPLC’s
Bethel School District No. 403 v. Fraser with students.
You may wish to share the reflections of those involved in the
case. In April 2001, Matthew Fraser, a debate coach at Stanford
University, reflected on the speech and case that limited student
free speech rights. Summarize or give students copies of “Matthew
Fraser speaks out on 15-year-old Supreme Court free-speech decision.”
This article includes comments from the lawyers who represented
the Bethel School District and Fraser, as well as an analysis
of the impact of the Supreme Court decision. In what ways may
the composition of the Supreme Court and the time period when
a case is heard influence the decision of the Court?
Conversation — Tinker Plaintiffs
For Law Day in 1998, the American Bar Association Division of
Public Education interviewed John and Mary Beth Tinker and Christopher
Eckhardt. The site includes their responses to questions, case
summary and resources.
Supreme Court on “Hazelwood: A Reversal on Regulation of Student
Expression,” ERIC Digest No. 8
An analysis of the Supreme Court decision by Dr. Thomas Eveslage,
Temple University, Department of Journalism.
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission of the Journalism Education
Association provides perspective and resources on publications,
photography, law and ethics, censorship and policies. Activities
and exercises are available. Download an application for Let Freedom
Ring: America’s First Amendment High Schools Award.
The professional organization for middle school and high school
media advisers, JEA provides professional development opportunities
and co-sponsors two conventions per year with the National Scholastic
Press Association. The Web site includes the JEA student press
Student Media Sourcebook
Links to organizations and resources to help student journalists
A thoughtful essay and many resources and links are found on this
site that Dianne Smith created.
First Amendment Handbook
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provides a quick
reference source that covers many topics, including libel, surreptitious
recording, access and copyright.
Case studies and activities for use in the classroom.
of Freedom: A Living Bill of Rights
Close Up Foundation videotape
Jerry. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Greatest Hits. CD-ROM.
Multimedia: audio, images, text. 1999.
Developed and edited by Jerry Goldman, Northwestern University
professor and developer of OYEZ Web site. Contains more than 70
hours of the actual oral argument in 50 of the most significant
constitutional cases; searchable by name, date and participation
of justices. Cases include Lee v. Weisman, Miller v.
California, Texas v. Johnson, Tinker v. Des Moines
Ind. Comm. School District.
Power and Liberty in the School in Sure-Fire Presentations,
v. Des Moines is among three case studies in lessons and activities
used to explore the need to balance students’ rights and the authority
of a governing body. (PC# 497-0010) $5.00 Contact: American Bar
Association Service Center, 800/285-2221.
Robert. A Free and Responsible Student Press. The Poynter
Institute for Media Studies. 1996.
Beginning with the premise that the mission of the student press
is a profound democratic act and a way for students to learn the
meaning of responsibility, this guide provides a vision of success
in scholastic journalism.
Leonard D. The Law (in Plain English) for Photographers.
New York: Allworth Press. 1995.
The author presents the legal issues faced by photographers including
copyright law and libel, rights of privacy, censorship and obscenity,
digitization and manipulation of images.
Irons, Peter. The Courage of Their Convictions. New York:
The Free Press. 1988.
One chapter is devoted to the Tinker v. Des Moines case.
Johnson, John W. The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v.
Des Moines and the 1960s (Landmark Law Cases and American
Society). Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press. 1997.
This excellent study details the personal decisions of the students
and their parents within the historical context of the 1960s.
Perspectives on the limits of free speech, the permissible limits
of public protest, symbolic speech and student freedom of expression
can be gained through reading about this most important student
Johnson, John W. The Struggle for Student Rights: Tinker v.
Des Moines and the 1960s (Landmark Law Cases and American
Society). Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press. 1997.
A carefully researched and well written comprehensive study of
the case, including the appeals process on the way to the Supreme
Raskin, Jamim B. We the Students: Supreme Court Decisions
For and About Students. Washington, D.C.: CQPress. 2000.
A comprehensive casebook of Supreme Court and lower court decisions
that govern the lives of American public school students. Cases
cover length of hair and dress, freedom of religious expression
and Internet pages, searches of students and due process, equal
protection and sexual harassment.
Student Press Law Center. Law Of the Student Press. Washington,
D.C.: Student Press Law Center, 1994.
The essential reference book on student press freedom. Sections
cover libel, invasion of privacy, press freedom at public and
private schools, underground newspapers and the Internet. Go to
the SPLC Web
site for the Press Law Pack, pamphlets and other materials.
Student Press Law Center. The Starting Point: Young Journalists
and the Law. 1999.
The Newspaper Association of America Foundation, in partnership
with the Student Press Law Center, produced this 41-page guide
to the special legal and ethical issues involved when journalists
are minors and when journalists interview sources who are minors.
A review of legal and ethical issues in easy-to-understand language,
along with related exercises, suggestions and recommendations
are provided. Targeted to adults who work with young people, each
of the four chapters — “Libel,” “Invasion of Privacy,” “Conflict
with Authority” and “Using the Internet” — includes a case study
with follow-up question-and-answer exercises to be used in classrooms
and training sessions.
Student Press Law Center. 1815 N. Fort Myer Drive, Suite 900,
Arlington, VA 22209. Devoted exclusively to educating high school
and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities
embodied in the First Amendment, SPLC provides free legal advice
and reasonably priced educational material. Every media adviser
and editor should have a copy of Law of the Student Press,
a valuable resource in every school. Packets available through
Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier: A Complete Guide to the Supreme
Court Decision (1992)
Hazelwood and the College Press (1991)
Press Freedom and Private Schools (1992)
Liability for the Student Media: Who’s Responsible When Something
Goes Wrong (1997)
Doing it Underground: A Legal Guide for Alternative Student
Guide to Liability for Online Student Media (2000)
IRS Form 990: a Public Record for the Private School Journalist
For information visit www.splc.org
or call (703) 807-1904.
United States History, Standard 8: Understands the institutions
and practices of government created during the Revolution and how
these elements were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the
foundation of the American political system based on the U.S. Constitution
and the Bill of Rights.
Civics, Standard 8: Understands the central ideas of American constitutional
government and how this form of government has shaped the character
of American society.
Civics, Standard 9: Understands the importance of Americans sharing
and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American
Civics Standard 18: Understands the role and importance of law
in the American constitutional system and issues regarding the judicial
protection of individual rights.
United States History, Standard 8, Grades 9-12:
Understands the Bill of Rights and various challenges to it (e.g.
arguments by Federalists and Anti-Federalists over the need for
a Bill of Rights, the Alien and Sedition Acts, recent court cases
involving the Bill of Rights.)
Civics, Standard 8, Grades 6-8: Knows opposing positions on current
issues involving constitutional protection of individual rights
such as limits on speech (e.g., hate speech, advertising), separation
of church and state (e.g., school vouchers, prayer in public schools),
cruel and unusual punishment (e.g., death penalty), search and seizure
(e.g., warrantless searches), and privacy (e.g., national identification
Civics, Standard 9, Grades 9-12: Understands the interdependence
among certain values and principles (e.g., individual liberty and
Civics, Standard 18, Grades 9-12: Knows historical and contemporary
practices that illustrate the central place of the rule of law (e.g.,
submitting bills to legal counsel to insure congressional compliance
with constitutional limitations, higher court review of lower court
compliance with the law, executive branch compliance with laws enacted
by Congress); Understands how the rule of law makes possible a system
of ordered liberty that protects the basic rights of citizens.
Advanced Placement English Language and Composition teachers might
introduce students to the Tinker and Hazelwood decisions
before having students practice an AP examination free response
question. In 1990, Question 3 began: “Recently the issue of how
much freedom we should (or must) allow student newspapers was argued
all the way to the Supreme Court. Read the following items carefully
and then write an essay presenting a logical argument for or against
the Supreme Court decision.”