The journalism class at Hazelwood East High School wrote articles and
put them together for the school paper. They gave the newspaper to
their teacher, Howard Emerson. Mr. Emerson showed the newspaper to the
principal. He asked the principal if it was okay to make copies and hand
them out to students at the school.
Principal Reynolds did not like what he read. First, there was an
article about pregnant students. It described the students, but it did
not give their names. Principal Reynolds was afraid that students would
be able to figure out who the pregnant students were. He also noticed
that the article mentioned sex and birth control. He did not think that
students in ninth grade should be reading about sex and birth control.
There was another article that Principal Reynolds did not like. This
one talked about divorce. In it, one student said things about her
father. For example, she said that her father went out too much. She
also said that her father didn't spend enough time with his family. The
father did not get a chance to tell his side of the story. Principal
Reynolds thought this was unfair.
Principal Reynolds thought the paper needed to be changed. But it was
almost the end of the school year. He was afraid that it would take the
class a long time to change it. If it took too long, the school year
would be over and the other students would not get the paper. So he told
Mr. Emerson to remove the pages that had the articles about pregnancy
and divorce. He said to make copies of the rest of the paper.
The students were very angry. They had spent a lot of time writing
the articles. They could have fixed them if Principal Reynolds had given
them a chance. Instead, he deleted two pages that also contained other
articles. They felt that this was a violation of their First Amendment
rights. They went to the U.S. District Court. The court did not agree
with them. It said that school officials may limit students' speech in
the school newspaper if their decision has "a substantial and reasonable
basis." In other words, if he has a good reason, it is okay for a
principal to limit students' speech.
The students appealed the decision. The Court of Appeals reversed
the decision of the U.S. District Court. This court said that the
school paper was a "public forum," or place where students could express
their views. The judges said that the school could not censor the paper except "to avoid . . . substantial interference with school work or discipline . . . or the rights of others." They did not think that the articles about pregnancy would have interfered with schoolwork. They thought the articles should have been printed.
The school appealed the decision of the
Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of the United States thought that
this was an important case. It dealt with the rights of students. It
agreed to hear arguments from both sides.
Questions to Consider
In the article about the pregnant students, what was Principal Reynolds worried about?
What did Principal Reynolds say was wrong with the article about divorce?
What did Principal Reynolds do to fix the problem? Did he have any other choices?
What rights did the students say had been violated?
Do you think a principal should be allowed to limit what is said in a school newspaper? Why or why not?