Hazelwood plaintiff reflects on experience

Thirteen years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the participants of the case reflected on how the decision has affected the rights of student journalists.

Kathy Cowan, the former Cathy Kuhlmeier, said public school students do not have enough First Amendment rights, in part because of the Supreme Court's decision in Hazelwood.

Cowan was one of three students who challenged her high school principal's attempt to censor the school newspaper. What resulted was a Supreme Court decision that continues to shape how many high school journalists do their work.

"I do feel the legacy of the Hazelwood case is one of hurting student First Amendment rights," Cowan said in a Freedom Forum article. "We should help students, and principals shouldn't be able to censor everything."

Cowan's adversary in the case, school district attorney Robert Baine Jr., told the Freedom Forum that he was worried leading up to the Supreme Court's decision. At the time, the school district had lost in the Eighth Circuit and the Supreme Court had only\neight justices at the time of the hearing. A 4-4 split would have resulted in a win for the students.

Nevertheless, the Court sided with Blain in 5-3 vote. "The real issue in this case is that the school paper produced as part of a class was a matter of school curriculum," he said.

Meanwhile, Cowan still advocates on behalf of student journalists, and recently spoke at event for the Indiana High School Press Association about the case.

She is now a preschool teacher in Missouri.

"Students don't have enough First Amendment freedoms," Cowan said. "There are a lot of very intelligent kids out there and we should listen to them more. Maybe if we did the world would be a better place."