Newspapers and Public Forums
In 1969, a U. S. District
Court in New York ruled that the principal of New Rochelle High
School in New York violated the First Amendment after prohibiting
students from accepting a paid advertisement opposing the Vietnam
The school contended it could bar the advertisement because of
its long-standing policy limiting the content of the paper to “matters
pertaining to the high school and its activities.” The school also
argued that because citizens do not have a right of access to the
private press, in a school environment, students should not have
a right of access to the school paper.
The court rejected those arguments, saying the school paper should
be open to free expression of ideas. Even though there were alternate
methods of protest, the students must be allowed to use the newspaper
as a public forum to express themselves and disseminate ideas.
As the judge in the 1969 case Zucker v. Panitz put it, “It
is patently unfair in light of the free speech doctrine to close
to the students the forum which they deem effective to present their
ideas. It would be both incongruous and dangerous for this court
to hold that students who wish to express their views on matters
intimately related to them, through traditionally accepted non-disruptive
modes of communication, may be precluded from doing so.”
The student newspaper as a public forum would become central to
the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier case 19 years
later. Indicating that the school newspaper occupied a special place
as a means for student expression, the court said, “Clearly a newspaper
by its nature is a forum for student expression of ideas and viewpoints.
The school cannot realistically argue that this is solely an education
Zucker v. Panitz was the first in what would be a long line
of lower court school newspaper cases between 1969 and 1988. Without
exception, when confronted with cases involving censorship of school-sponsored
high school newspapers and yearbooks, courts applied the Tinker
standard. Schools could censor only when they could prove the story
at issue would result in a “material and substantial interference
with schoolwork or discipline or could result in an invasion of
the rights of other students.”
“Material and substantial interference with schoolwork or discipline”
was typically defined as a physical disruption that directly interfered
with the school’s primary purpose of educating students. “Invasion
of the rights of other students” was usually defined as a legal
invasion — libel or invasion of privacy.
- What is a “precedent”? What decision was a precedent for Zucker
- What is a public forum?
- Why is it important for the student media to be a public forum?
- What is censorship? In what ways did Tinker v. Des Moines
Independent Community School District and Zucker v. Panitz
influence censorship by school officials?