The case was decided 5 to 3. Justice White delivered the opinion of the Court.
We have nonetheless recognized that the First Amendment rights of
students in the public schools "are not automatically coextensive with
the rights of adults in other settings" . . . and must be "applied in
light of the special characteristics of the school environment" . . . A
school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its
"basic educational mission" . . . even though the government could not
censor similar speech outside the school.
We deal first with the question whether Spectrum may appropriately be
characterized as a forum for public expression. The public schools do
not possess all of the attributes of streets, parks, and other
traditional public forums that "time out of mind, have been used for
purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and
discussing public questions." . . . Hence, school facilities may be
deemed to be public forums only if school authorities have "by policy or
by practice" opened those facilities "for indiscriminate use by the
general public," . . . If the facilities have instead been reserved for
other intended purposes, "communicative or otherwise," then no public
forum has been created, and school officials may impose reasonable
restrictions on the speech of students, teachers, and other members of
the school community.
The question whether the First Amendment requires a school to
tolerate particular student speech—the question that we addressed in
Tinker—is different from the question whether the First Amendment
requires a school affirmatively to promote particular student speech.
The former question addresses educators' ability to silence a student's
personal expression that happens to occur on the school premises. The
latter question concerns educators' authority over school-sponsored
publications, theatrical productions, and other expressive activities
that students, parents, and members of the public might reasonably
perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school. These activities may
fairly be characterized as part of the school curriculum, whether or not
they occur in a traditional classroom setting, so long as they are
supervised by faculty members and designed to impart particular
knowledge or skills to student participants and audiences.
Educators are entitled to exercise greater control over this second
form of student expression to assure that participants learn whatever
lessons the activity is designed to teach, that readers or listeners are
not exposed to material that may be inappropriate for their level of
maturity, and that the views of the individual speaker are not
erroneously attributed to the school. Hence, a school may in its
capacity as publisher of a school newspaper or producer of a school play
"disassociate itself," . . . not only from speech that would
"substantially interfere with [its] work . . . or impinge upon the
rights of other students," . . . but also from speech that is, for
example, ungrammatical, poorly written, inadequately researched, biased
or prejudiced, vulgar or profane, or unsuitable for immature audiences. A
school must be able to set high standards for the student speech that
is disseminated under its auspices—standards that may be higher than
those demanded by some newspaper publishers or theatrical producers in
the "real" world—and may refuse to disseminate student speech that does
not meet those standards. In addition, a school must be able to take
into account the emotional maturity of the intended audience in
determining whether to disseminate student speech on potentially
sensitive topics, which might range from the existence of Santa Claus in
an elementary school setting to the particulars of teenage sexual
activity in a high school setting. A school must also retain the
authority to refuse to sponsor student speech that might reasonably be
perceived to advocate drug or alcohol use, irresponsible sex, or conduct
otherwise inconsistent with "the shared values of a civilized social
order," Fraser, supra, at 683, or to associate the school with any
position other than neutrality on matters of political controversy. . . .
Accordingly, we conclude that the standard articulated in Tinker for
determining when a school may punish student expression need not also be
the standard for determining when a school may refuse to lend its name
and resources to the dissemination of student expression. Instead, we
hold that educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising
editorial control over the style and content of student speech in
school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are
reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.
. . . It is only when the decision to censor a school-sponsored
publication, theatrical production, or other vehicle of student
expression has no valid educational purpose that the First Amendment is
so "directly and sharply implicate[d]," ibid., as to require judicial
intervention to protect students' constitutional rights. . . .
We also conclude that Principal Reynolds acted reasonably in
requiring the deletion from the May 13 issue of Spectrum of the
pregnancy article, the divorce article, and the remaining articles that
were to appear on the same pages of the newspaper.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit is therefore reversed.
Questions to consider
According to the opinion, do students have the same rights as adults in the "real world?"
Is the Spectrum a "public forum?" Why is this an important distinction to make?
What distinction does the Court make between the cases of Tinker v. Des Moines and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier?
Explain, in your own words, why the Court believes educators should
be able to exercise greater control over school-sponsored publications,
theatrical productions, and other expressive activities than over
student expression that happens to occur on the school premises.
What does the Court mean by "legitimate pedagogical concerns?"
In your opinion, should a school be able to refuse to sponsor
student speech that "might reasonably be perceived to advocate drug or
alcohol use, irresponsible sex, or conduct otherwise inconsistent with
'the shared values of a civilized social order,' . . . or to associate
the school with any position other than neutrality on matters of
political controversy?" Should a school be able to refuse to allow
students to independently express such opinions? Why or why not?
React to this statement: "A school must be able to set high
standards for the student speech that is disseminated under its auspices
- standards that may be higher than those demanded by some newspaper
publishers or theatrical producers in the 'real' world—and may refuse to
disseminate student speech that does not meet those standards." Should
standards in schools be different from standards in the "real world?"
Why or why not?