Free expression laws kept from high school students


The Supreme Court's Hazelwood decision remains an integral part of student journalists' lives, but advisers are not giving up the fight





Millions of high school student journalists across the country remain without strong First Amendment protection under the 1988 Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision.

The decision made it more difficult for students working on school-sponsored publications to fight censorship.

Opponents of this decision have recently been unsuccessful in their efforts to persuade legislatures to consider statutory protections for student expression. If passed, these measures would provide students in their respective states with greater free press rights.

Six states have passed student free expression laws: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and Massachusetts. Similar activity has recently occurred in five other states: Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska and Arizona.

Bill Hankins, a member of the Missouri Freedom of Expression Committee, which supports a free expression statute in the state, said Missouri’s bill was in “limbo” for the summer and will be reintroduced for the third time when legislative session reconvenes.

“We got strong editorial support in April from the [local media] and we will continue to have it,” Hankins said.

Hankins said his and other organizations that supported the bill will emphasize the educational rights of student journalists in their next attempt.

“We’re going to reintroduce this year after year until we get it [passed],” said Joyce Armstrong, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Eastern Missouri. “We’re not going to give up.”

Missouri’s situation is typical of the states that have tried to enact student free expression legislation this year.

In Michigan, the legislative session ended in June with the free expression bill still unresolved. It has been in committee since September 1995.

The bill would give “a pupil in a public school … the right to exercise freedom of expression while in attendance at school or school-related functions.”

Michigan first introduced its free expression bill in March 1991. In December 1992, the bill died. It was reintroduced in March 1993, and died again in December 1994.

In Illinois, the student free expression bill was introduced in February and died before reaching a committee hearing. It is planned for reintroduction in January when the next legislative session begins, according to Illinois Rep. Mary Lou Cowlishow’s (R-Naperville) office.

“It has to start all over from scratch,” said a spokesperson from the office. The Illinois free expression bill was first introduced in March 1989 in the House of Representatives and died after subcommittee hearings. It was reintroduced in March 1993 and passed the House before dying in the Senate Rules Committee.

The Nebraska free expression bill was introduced in January 1994, but died three months later. It was reintroduced in January 1995 and died in February.

The Nebraska High School Press Association and Professor John Bender from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln talked about the bill’s reintroduction and decided to take time to think about the problems they have been having with passing the bill.

“We decided to do some coalition building and some lobbying,” said Bender. “We need to do preparatory work. It might be another year or two [before the bill is reintroduced.]”

After a recent confrontation in Arizona between the principal of Tolleson Union High School and the student newspaper adviser, Daryl James, a “movement” began to regain editorial freedoms for students in that state.

“If we organize ourselves and stay focused, we can do great things,” said James in a recent press release. “Our biggest strength in the movement would be our students.”

James said they hope to see a bill be introduced in January with support from students and journalism educators from several schools.


Fall 1996, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, reports