What subjects should students be banned from discussing in a student newspaper? Explain why this is so.

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The answer to that question could basically encompass any topic that the school deems to be unaligned with its core values and ideals. The primary place to research this is the landmark case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier. In this case, the members of a student newspaper sued over articles that were censored by their principal and omitted from publication. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the school did not violate the students' first amendment rights by eliminating certain content from the issue.

Why is this? The Supreme Court ruled that the school had a "legitimate" interest in "pedagogical concern." This means that public school was determined, by the Supreme Court, not to be an open forum, but rather a space governed by set curricula and standards—which are controlled by the administration.

Moreover, the school had an interest in preventing the publication of any article that would cast a negative image on the school. This ruling essentially granted the school ownership of the content being produced, which allows the administration to ban any content that it deems unfit for publication—so long as it can provide reason. Speaking as a former school administrator, any content that can be deemed as "disruptive" to the educational process is reason enough to justify censoring.

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Several problems exist with school newspapers, the most perplexing of which is the line between news and social discourse (often descending to gossip).  Since the fact that the school acts “in loco parentis” and since the First Amendment rights of free speech must both be addressed, the law begins with a clear definition and description of the school newspaper’s raison d’etre, as reflected in its published mission statement, which must be approved by the school administration.  Most (high)school newspapers are part of a journalism program, so this mission statement is part of the education of the staff.  The task of the editorial staff, then, is to identify “news” and to filter out “gossip” or personal information considered “private.”

          A typical topic, then, not protected by free speech is “romantic revelations,” especially those involving alternate lifestyles.  What is “dangerous” or inflammatory about such non-news items are their social consequences and their invasion of the school’s other regulations, those regarding student privilege, medical information, and the like.  The student unrest in the entire student body when such lines are crossed is dangerous to all, not just the named (or “hinted at”) individuals, but also those seeking revenge or pay-back.  If this caveat is both printed in the paper’s mission statement, and enforced by the editorial staff, social chaos in the form of bullying and harassment can be avoided without any First Amendment problems.  The same holds true for non-news of hate crimes, drug use, sexual promiscuity, and similar areas.  “News” cannot be interpreted as “juicy personal tidbits.”

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