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Student Journalists Attend Presentation By Cathy Kuhlmeier of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier Case


January 26, 2023

By Alya Satchu

CHICAGO–-From November 10 through 12 of 2022, six high school journalists from Francis W. Parker School attended the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) journalism convention in St. Louis, Mo. The convention held lectures throughout the day covering topics related to reporting, writing, media design, and more. One lecture called “Hazelwood Unpacked” featured guest speaker Cathy Kuhlmeier from the case, Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. Kuhlmeier spent the session outlining her experience with the case.

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) also attended and spoke at the session. The nonprofit organization works to defend press freedom in schools. They have a legal hotline, resources, programs, and training for students.

The Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier case took place in 1988, beginning when students in a journalism class at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, Mo. wanted to publish articles about teen pregnancy, the influence of divorce, and teenage runaways in The Spectrum, the school-sponsored newspaper. This content differed from articles usually published in the newspaper: stories related to school athletics, events, or fluff pieces. The student writers, including Kuhlmeier, wanted to publish impactful content highlighting critical stories of teenage health and the environment. Before publication, however, the school’s principal deleted the pages containing such stories without telling Kuhlmeier and her peers. The principal deemed the articles “too mature for immature audiences,” according to Kuhlmeier in the session.

The students brought the issue to the state of Missouri but it escalated to the Supreme Court. Eventually, in a 5-3 decision, the Court ruled that restrictions by the school did not affect the free speech rights of students. The Court claimed that since the newspaper is sponsored by the school, the articles and publishing eligibility are in the interest of the school.

Following Kuhlmeier’s presentation, the SPLC gave some closing remarks and reminders to the student journalists in the audience. Specifically, they encouraged students to use their voices and power to fight for press rights, already protected by state laws.

Co-Deputy Director of Media Relations at Teens for Press Freedom, Luci Garza, added, “Stories such as Kuhlmeier’s have illuminated a bright path for student journalists across the country as they prove that dedication to enriching media is worth fighting for. Conferences hosted by organizations such as the NSPA serve as vital spaces in which the youth of today, regardless of their connections to the world of journalism, can be reminded, and therefore better equipped, of the power their voices have in catalyzing change.”


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