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It started on a ‘day like no other,’
but now it’s time for a change

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by H. L. Hall

Hazelwood stories: It was a day like no other day. It was Jan. 13, 1988. For those involved with high school journalism it was an unlucky day.

A decision the United States Supreme Court made that day has continued to have a great impact on high school publications for 25 years, and it may continue to have a great impact for years to come, unless JEA and concerned advisers can do something to reverse the course.25 years of Hazelwood art

Shortly after the Court announced its decision, Principal Franklin McCallie entered my classroom at Kirkwood High School.

“Did you hear,” he asked?

I knew immediately what he was talking about.

“I’m devastated,” I said, “but I’m not surprised.”

We talked about the consequences of the decision. Fortunately, I knew there would be no changes regarding the Kirkwood Call (newspaper) or Pioneer (yearbook.) Both had always operated as a designated public forum.

During my 34 years in the Kirkwood district I had the good fortune of working for three principals who supported the right of students to make wise decisions. Therefore, I never suffered the fate other advisers and their students did following the Hazelwood ruling. It’s been almost 14 years since I retired, and it’s still obvious the Tinker Standard, not the Hazelwood standard, is still in effect in Kirkwood.

Even though Hazelwood never affected my students, I was acutely aware of how it impacted other schools in the St. Louis area and across the country.

When Principal Gene Reynolds at Hazelwood East decided in May 1983 that articles in the Spectrum dealing with teenage pregnancy and the effects of divorce on students should not be published, Bob Stergos, the former adviser of the paper, called me. Stergos had resigned a few weeks earlier and the Hazelwood district replaced him with Howard Emerson, an interim adviser to serve until the end of the school year.

I had served as a mentor for Stergos as he wrote his master’s thesis on student press rights. Stergos also knew there had never been censorship at Kirkwood, so that’s why he called me to ask for advice. I suggested he have the students contact the Student Press Law Center, and then I urged him to remove himself from the confrontation. There was already animosity between him and the administration.

The students contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, and they decided to take the issue to the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleging the district had violated their First Amendment rights. The students lost.

Although the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s ruling, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against the students Jan 13, 1988.

Following that ruling, journalism advisers throughout Missouri organized to try to get a state bill passed to override Hazelwood. For four consecutive years, McCallie and others testified before state congressional committees in favor of the bill, but to no avail. Since the case originated in Missouri, we knew it was an uphill battle, but we kept trying.

The bill went to different committees each year, but we always heard the same arguments from administrators in the Hazelwood district and from the legislators themselves. Their main concern was fear of a libel suit, so there had to be some control placed on student journalists. Those fighting for the bill were never able to get any committee to report it out to the full legislature for consideration.

Aaron Manfull, a Missouri adviser, tells me he is not aware of any effort still going on in the state to get a bill passed. As far as I know there hasn’t been any effort since the 1990s. Even if it is an uphill battle, the efforts should continue.

McCallie was the only Missouri administrator speaking on behalf of the bill. He has now retired. I hope other administrators will renew the fight. Missouri is the “Show Me” state. For 25 years state legislators have shown they don’t support student freedom of expression. It’s time they change their minds and join legislators in those states who do. The “Show Me” slogan should become “We Will Show You.”

It’s time. Twenty-five years has been long enough.

H.L.Hall is the 1983 Dow Jones News Fund High School Journalism Teacher of the Year and JEA’s first Yearbook Adviser of the Year. He has won numerous awards himself, and his students dominated scholastic journalism awards for many years. In his retirement, he continues to work with JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Commission and serves as an adjunct professor for Kent State University’s Center for Scholastic Journalism. 

 

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