C E N S O R S H I P O F S T U D E N T P U B L I C A T I O N

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William Allan Kritsonis, PhD …

William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
Educational Law Series- Censorship of Students

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  • 1. Censorship of Student Publications William Allan Kritsonis, PhD
  • 2. Students’ Rights Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District
    • The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) was the standard governing censorship of student publications for almost 20 years.
  • 3. Tinker V. Des Moines Independent Community School District Con’t.
    • It remains the controlling decision in some instances. Tinker established that a student may express personal opinions, “even on controversial subjects,” unless the student’s conduct “materially disrupts class work or involves substantial disorder or invasions of the rights of others”.
  • 4. Tinker Case
    • Involved several public school students who wore armband in school signifying their opposition to the war in Vietnam.
    • School officials learned of this and developed a rule that any student who wore an armband to school would be asked to remove it .
    • If they refused to comply, they would be suspended until the armband was removed.
    • The rule only applied to secondary students.
  • 5. Tinker Case Con’t.
    • When elementary students wore their armbands to school despite the rule they weren’t suspended.
    • Instead, the teachers used the opportunity to talk about dissent in a democratic society.
    • The older students, who were sincere in their beliefs were suspended with the defied the rule.
    • Through their parents, they sued the district claiming the regulation and its enforcement infringed their constitutional right of free speech.
    • They asked the Supreme Court to grant freedom of expression rights to public school students.
  • 6. Hazelwood School District V. Kulhmeier (1988)
    • This case looked more specifically at student publications and allowed school officials greater opportunity to censor than Tinker. The student newspaper in this case was part of a high school journalism class. As such, the Court decided it was sponsored by the school and legitimately subject to school control over its content and style, as long as that control served a valid educational purpose.
  • 7. Hazelwood School District V. Kulhmeier Con’t.
    • Under Hazelwood, a publication would likely be considered school-sponsored if it is supervised by a faculty member, if it exists to teach either the students who work on it or those who read it, or if it uses the school’s resources.
  • 8. The Court’s Involvement
    • The Court distinguished between student publications that serve an educational purpose and those that exist as forums for student expression. Even when a publication is sponsored by the school, officials cannot censor its content if it is, “by policy or by practice,” an open forum for expression.
    • Likewise, the content of extracurricular and underground newspapers may be censored only under the Tinker standard, even if the publication involves the use of school resources.
  • 9. The Court’s Con’t.
    • Courts have generally recognized that student publications may be censored if there is material that is obscene as to minors or the is libelous. Vulgar or foul language is not necessarily subject to censorship; although in a 1986 decision, Bethel V. Fraser, the Supreme Court upheld the punishment of a student who gave a lewd speech before an assembly of 14-year-old students. According to Censorship and Selection, by Henry Reichman, however, “Whether the Supreme Court will apply Fraser to student publications remains unclear”.
  • 10. References
    • The Educator’s Guide to Texas School Law. Jim Walsh, Frank Kemerer, and Laurie Maniotis, Sixth Edition.
    • Rethinking Schools Online
    • Volume 13, No. 4 , Summer 1999> Students: Know Your Rights.
    • www.rethinkingschools.org