Tyler J. Buller


It’s hard to predict what an average member of the public thinks when he or she hears the words “student newspaper.” Opinions vary. This Article goes beyond that public perception and demonstrates that student journalists across the country are doing work that matters. Student reporters uncover corruption, help hold government officials accountable to taxpayers and the public, and bring to light important issues that would otherwise go unreported. They allow students to develop academically, professionally, and socially. And they give a voice to developing citizens who are often disenfranchised from voting, holding elected office, or otherwise participating in politics and government. Across the country, there are two very different standards for what student journalists are free to write about and when school officials can punish them. Because of developments in federal constitutional law and related state statutes, the protections afforded student journalists vary from state to state. One group of students (those in what I refer to as “Tinker states”) has the same level of protection afforded to Mary Beth Tinker more than forty years ago, when she wore a black armband to school in protest of the war in Vietnam. These Tinker-state newspapers can only be censored if they publish unprotected speech (like libel or obscenity) or school officials reasonably forecast the publication will cause a material and substantial disruption. The other group (in what I refer to as “Hazelwood states”) has far less protection, and their student publications can be censored any time school officials’ actions are “reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns.” This Article explores the differences between the two groups of student newspapers by drawing on litigation concerning states’ so-called anti-Hazelwood statutes and conducting an original study comparing the editorials of Tinker-state student newspapers and their Hazelwood-state counterparts.

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