Student Free Speech Rights: A Lesson on the Constitution
In the fourth blog of our Constitution Day 2022 series, guest author Stephen Lazar, a national board certified teacher and a Shanker Institute Civics Fellow, uses his students' natural interest in their free speech rights in school as an opportunity to teach them about the Supreme Court's role in helping to redefine and enhance the rights enshrined in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
I always tell my students that (other than the Dred Scot case of those of a similarly evil tilt) Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier is my least favorite Supreme Court Case, as it’s the only one that’s ever been used against me. I was editor-in-chief of my high school paper and was set to publish two op-eds that were critical of the school. The Hazelwood case enshrined a limitation on students’ freedom of speech in school-sponsored publications, deeming them school projects that therefore are subject to complete editorial censorship by the school administration. Our advisor took the critical pieces to our principal, who told me I could not run one of them and had to make edits to the other, that I had written. I was livid, but swallowed my pride.
Over two decades later, when I teach students about their free speech rights in school, my primary aim is to help them embrace and understand the rights they do have in school—particularly for political speech—as well as the fact that their free speech rights are not absolute.