Has Hazelwood Run Dry? Let’s Talk About Censorship in High Schools

by / 1 Comment / 699 View / July 8, 2014

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In an age where information flows like saliva through the thick lips of Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, student journalists are now more powerful than ever before. While censorship in high school journalism may have worked in the 20th century, today’s modern world is a whole new chessboard, with the students in the clear advantage to inflict a checkmate. With the online expansion of publications such as The Huffington Post, The New York Times, TIME and The Washington Post, students now have the ability to voice their thoughts both inside and outside of the newsroom through letters to the editor, blog posts (I specifically write for The Huffington Post) and op-ed submissions. Nothing stops me from taking the same editorial censored by my school principal and putting it online for thousands to see. That’s quite scary, don’t you think Dr. Smith?

For example, in this year alone, two teens from Ann Arbor, Michigan have demonstrated the undeniable fact that “censorship is gasoline on the flame of a powerful idea.” After being denied the opportunity to publish a positively thoughtful discussion on depression in adolescents, the two teens have taken their voice not home to complain and cry, but to NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and The New York Times. By attempting to deprive students of their voice, the Michigan administrators only exposed the wound of censorship that much more, revealing to the entire world a bloody scar of resentment and poor judgment. Hazelwoodcan only regulate student voices in school-sponsored publications; It says nothing about the Internet. So, now that we are in 2014, the age of Twitter and Facebook and the ever-so-popular email, an era where words spread like wildfire, my question to you is this: is Hazelwood worth it? Is the censorship of one or two or even three articles worth the shame and public degradation that can only follow it?

Of course, this is not to say that students should be allowed to say whatever they want. With the Internet has come along new regulations regarding cyberbullying and a greater sense of responsibility.  A good student journalist knows that a school newspaper is not an appropriate place to point fingers at members of the school, whether they are other students or teachers. That’s nothing more than name calling. However, schools need to come to the grim realization—grim for them, not us—that freedom of speech often crosses paths with the freedom to offend. Journalism has not been and cannot be about keeping everyone happy. Journalism is about drawing awareness to issues that would otherwise remain underground, communicating with our society and providing voices that spark intellectual debate. Schools that exercise practices such as prior review are hardly preparing their students for the world of journalism; not only do they put themselves in jeopardy, as they become responsible for what is printed in the school newspaper, but they also misguide students by forcing them to relinquish this responsibility. As long as a school newspaper or publication makes it clear that the opinions and ideas expressed in its content do not reflect the viewpoints or feelings of the school as a whole—as Gael Winds has in each and every one of our editions—student voices should be free. Are mistakes going to happen with this new level of freedom? Yes. But journalism in schools is ultimately a learning process that in the end can only create brighter and more socially aware individuals. A bylineis where all journalistic responsibility should stem from, not, as I have seen in the past two years, from an administrator’s iron fist.

Shelton High School

 

Statistics show that prior review and censorship, while numerically minor, continue to exist in our secondary school systems. A 2014 survey by the Center for Scholastic Journalism found that of the 531 students and 69 advisors who responded to questions asked at the National High School Journalism Convention in Boston from November 13-17 of last year concerning their experiences with censorship of student media, 32% of students and 39% of advisors indicated that they were told at one point or another not to print something by school officials or other outside sources. In addition, 32% of students and 28% of advisors decided not to print something in fear that it would be censored. Next, approximately 9 % of advisers said school officials had threatened their position as adviser or their job at the school based on content decisions their students had made. These incidents can only create dissent and distance students from participating in journalism related activities.

While the Hazelwood ruling gives schools substantial latitude to make educationally legitimate decisions about the content of student publications, the First Amendment remains in force even in the pages of a school-funded publication, and decisions motivated by “image protection” rather than by best educational practices remain unlawful. That is, schools, while able to regulate educationally inflammatory material, cannot completely step over the constitutional rights of their students. It seems however, that high school administrators have been attempting to find one too many loopholes around this rule. In an age where Hazelwood has essentially diminished in power with the rise of the Internet, one thing has become crystal clear: humans were given vocal cords for a reason. To try and deny this principle of nature is to be nothing short of ignorant. There is only one way to fight journalism, and that’s the losing way.

This article is dedicated to Shelton High School in Shelton, CT, where during my time as a staff writer and editor for the award-winning paper Gael Winds, I came face to face with the administration-sponsored monster that is journalistic censorship.

References:

“SPLC.” Student Press Law Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www.splc.org/>.

“Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier.” Hazelwood V Kuhlmeier. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://cases.laws.com/hazelwood-v-kuhlmeier>.

“SPLC.” PRESS RELEASE: Survey: One-third of Journalism Students, Teachers Nationwide Report Administrative Censorship. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014. <http://www.splc.org/news/newsflash.asp?id=2671>.

  • KarenPage

    I applaud you for speaking out. The Internet has definitely changed the game since this depressing decision in 1988. One thing I noticed, though: It looks like Dr. Smith may have violated Hazelwood’s principles in her censorship. Hazelwood clearly states that administrators acting in this manner must have a “valid pedagogical reason” for doing so. In the op/ed example, I can’t think of one. Unfortunately, she’ll continue acting this way until someone stands up to her.