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Hazelwood is everyone’s problem

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by Carrie Faust
Hazelwood stories: Since the Supreme Court voted to limit the rights of scholastic journalists with the Hazelwood v Kuhlmeier decision in 1988, Colorado – and six other states – have enacted legislation to ensure the rights of students in those states would not be affected.

Ideally, because some state laws can trump federal law, those pieces of legislation should have ensured students would continue to operate with full authority as to the content of their publications and without fear of censorship from their school leaders. Unfortunately, that is not always reality, even in these seven states.hazelwoodcolor

Across this country, principal licensure programs barely touch on the issue of the First Amendment in schools. When they do, Hazelwood, a lesson of ignorance, fear and control, is the lesson taught, even in states with Anti-Hazelwood legislation.

Hazelwood has become a broad, sweeping brush stroke, used to paint over all topics “controversial” or “inappropriate” that may be covered in a school publication. The words “legitimate pedagogical concern” have been used to censor papers for everything from spelling errors to “unsportsmanly” critiques of the football program, to student opinions on the administration.

Hazelwood is everyone’s problem. In the last few years, states with Anti-Hazelwood legislation have been as likely to make the news for issues of censorship as those without. In Colorado, an adviser tried to censor her students for featuring a same-sex couple in the yearbook. A California school district tried to limit the right of scholastic publications to determine the content of their advertising. In Oregon, a school administration confiscated a paper because students ran a Twitter screenshot containing profanity.

Isn’t this illegal? Yes. Principals who have been trained incorrectly, under the Hazelwood standard, to operate out of fear, will make a decision to censor every time. More often than not, after weeks and months of bad publicity for the district, the students regain their right to publish. But, the knee-jerk decision to censor is systemically ingrained.

Hazelwood continues to be the cancerous standard school board policy generators like the Colorado Association of School Boards and NEOLA use, even when the districts they are generating for are in Anti-Hazelwood states. School districts everywhere continue to have on the books school board policies that go against these laws.

Hazelwood is taught to the administrators and policy-makers across our country with no regard for the lies and vitriol that come with it because there has been no large-scale, local, retraction to the Hazelwood language, even though experts agree the decision should not limit student rights the way it has been used.

Hazelwood is everyone’s problem. Even if advisers are lucky enough to live in an anti-Hazelwood state, you, and the students you teach, are affected by its far-reaching implications. Principals are trained using the Hazelwood standard to censor without cause, and students everywhere are self-censoring for fear of repercussion.

The only way to make this right is to demand a review of the Hazelwood ruling by the Supreme Court. They must reverse this decision that flies directly in the face of our Bill of Rights. Until that time, advisers and students must be vigilant in their education of administration and their pursuit of anti-Hazelwood legislation.

Hazelwood is everyone’s problem.

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