SPLC legal requests rise in '95; high school journalist calls up

Seven years after the Supreme Court's Hazelwood decision, calls from the high school student media seeking legal help from the Student Press Law Center hit an all-time high in 1995. 542 high school student journalists or their advisers contacted the Center for legal help last year. The previous high was 499, recorded during 1994.

Once again, questions about censorship topped the list of high school concerns (39 percent), followed by questions about libel (23 percent), copyright law (17 percent) and freedom of information (6 percent).

In the last seven years, calls to the SPLC have increased almost 170 percent. We attribute much of the increase to the 1988 decision in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which provided school officials with significantly greater authority to censor many high school student publications.

The number of all callers seeking legal help from the Center rose only slightly last year. Overall, the SPLC staff responded to 1,409 requests from those seeking legal advice and assistance in 1995, up from the 1,402 legal questions received in 1994. Requests for legal help from college student media during 1995 numbered 806, a decrease of five percent from 1994.

Legal assistance provided by the SPLC ranged from providing information over the telephone to drafting opinion letters to making referrals to local attorneys who are members of the Center's pro bono Attorney Referral Network.

The Center received an additional 503 questions from individuals seeking information only or from the media seeking comment on student press issues.

As in past years, requests to the SPLC in 1995 came from all fifty states and the District of Columbia. The states that topped the list were: California (151 requests), New York (133), Illinois (79), Virginia (79), Massachusetts (78), Ohio (76), Pennsylvania (72), Missouri (70), Florida (69) and Washington State (67).

March (236 requests) and October (208) were the months reporting the most activity. July (47) and August (79) had the fewest legal requests.

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the only national legal assistance agency and information clearinghouse devoted exclusively to protecting and educating the student press about their freedom of expression and freedom of information rights. The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All legal services are provided to the student media free of charge.

reports, Spring 1996