High school paper: MCPS right to censor articles

2010-07-22T08:19:00Z High school paper: MCPS right to censor articles missoulian.com
July 22, 2010 8:19 am

While I appreciate that the Missoulian supports local student journalists, in this case Missoula County Public Schools officials are well within their legal rights to vet articles in the school paper.

In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier 484 U.S. 260 that a high school paper, published as part of the curriculum, could be censored as the school administration sees fit. A school-sponsored paper, unlike a local, citywide paper, is not a public forum, and therefore student journalists writing for such a paper are not granted the same latitudes given a journalist writing for a paper such as the Missoulian.

Indeed, the Hazelwood decision states that censorship of a high school paper is reasonable if done for "legitimate pedagogical concerns," a sentiment echoed in the MCPS policy. In requiring that student work must be consistent "with the School District's educational mission" and excluding articles that are "materially disruptive to the educational process," MCPS remains in line with Hazelwood and therefore is not violating the First Amendment rights of anyone. This decision is the law, just as much as the First Amendment to the Constitution is the law.

If the Missoulian is so concerned about free speech, perhaps it should sponsor its own independent student newspaper. Until then, English and journalism teachers at MCPS should take this opportunity to familiarize their students with the legal niceties of journalism, an education that will behoove any student who aspires to professional journalism in the future.

Sarah Bigelow, Missoula

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