Censorship of student press widespread

Survey shows little change in attitudes of principals, advisers in past 15 years

Of those principals and advisers who agreed that their newspapers were censored, 39 percent of the principals and 40 percent of the advisers indicated that the censorship was done by the adviser. Sixty-one percent of principals and 60 percent of advisers said it was by the principal.

All of which is no surprise to Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver, professor and associate dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University.

"The situation has not gotten any better for student media at student newspapers nationwide," said Kopenhaver, "There's still a great deal of censorship."

Kopenhaver, along with J. William Click, chair of the Department of Mass Communication at Winthrop University, conducted a survey for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication convention last August, polling 433 advisers and 384 principals at high schools throughout the country. Eighty-six percent of the principals were from public schools and 14 percent were from private schools.

The survey revealed that censorship among high school newspapers has increased slightly since their last survey, which was conducted in 1989 just after the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. That decision limited the First Amendment protections provided to students working for school-sponsored publications.

But the results of the survey conducted by Click and Kopenhaver prior to Hazelwood showed that censorship of student publications was firmly entrenched in high schools even before the Supreme Court decision.

"[Hazelwood] did not have a tremendous impact," Kopenhaver said. "Censorship had already been going on."

Most principals and advisers agree. Almost 60 percent of both principals and advisers polled for the survey said their newspapers have always been censored.

"What Hazelwood did was reinforce in the minds of principals, primarily, that they can do this," Kopenhaver said.

She added that this belief stems from a lack of understanding about the meaning of the Hazelwood ruling on behalf of principals.

"[The newspaper at Hazelwood East High School] was a very different kind of newspaper than the majority of high school newspapers in the country," Kopenhaver said. "[Principals] don't realize that most newspapers in this country have always operated as forums for free student expression. If they have, the Court has clearly said that you go on operating that way."

The Court ruled in 1988 that Hazelwood East High School's student newspaper was not considered a public forum for expression because it had previously been subject to prior review by administrators.

Click and Kopenhaver's survey showed that only 18 percent of principals agreed that the "Hazelwood decision was limited and does not apply to student newspapers defined as public forums for student expression." Advisers were not far off-only one-fourth agreed with the statement.

Kopenhaver emphasized the need for more education about student press rights for students, advisers and principals, and she said everyone involved in journalism has an obligation to help.

"It is a constant effort," she said. "We can never let down. We must continue."

reports, Spring 2001