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First Amendment Activist Talks About Student Journalism

Cathy Kuhlmeier, subject of the Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier Supreme Court case, discussed being on the side of students in K-12

Image of a meeting with Cathy Kuhlmeier

By Catherine Scott

On Tuesday, March 2, First Amendment activist Cathy Kuhlmeier spoke to 27 SPD students in David Scott’s School Law class for teachers enrolled in the Educational Leadership Program, held via Zoom.

Kuhlmeier speaks to a variety of students across the country, from graduate students to K-12 journalism students. She was the subject of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier  U.S. Supreme Court case. The case related to the rights of student journalists in K-12 to publish stories that may be controversial. When Kuhlmeier and her peers attemped to publish stories about abortion and divorce in their school newspaper, their principal rejected the stories. This led to the case moving up lower courts and eventually landing on The Supreme Court. Kuhlmeier lost the case when the Court decided that there are grounds for censorship as long as there is legitimate pedagogical concern.

Kuhlmeier argued in the Zoom meeting that legitimate pedagogical concern is often not a valid reason for censorship. She asked in the beginning of the Zoom meeting if students agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision, and some students expressed their agreement. By the end of the meeting, she had changed some minds on the Supreme Court’s judgement. "Despite the fact that Cathy 'lost' on the Supreme Court of the United States, she has never stopped fighting for the rights of students," David Scott said.

Kuhlmeier gave an analysis of the case that came from personal experience, and in doing so gave the story a lot of nuance. She mentioned that there were multiple elements that her lawyer failed to bring up in arguing her case, including the fact that they had published stories on those subjects in the past. She brought up how she’s encountered many situations like her own over the years, including conversations she’s had with her children’s journalism teachers. Kuhlmeier explained how, in her opinion, the judgement has stifled student speech.

Despite her concerns, Kuhlmeier’s message to the teachers was positive. “Support the kids, make them feel like they matter, partner with them,” Kuhlemier said. “Let them know that they matter, that you want to have a good working relationship with them.”