Educators do not offend U.S. Const. amend. I by exercising editorial control over the style and content of student speech in school-sponsored expressive activities so long as their actions are reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns. The standard for determining when a school may punish student expression need not also be the standard for determining when a school may refuse to lend its name and resources to the dissemination of student expression.
One article scheduled to appear on the May 2013 edition of the school newspaper described the pregnancy experiences of three of the school's students. The school principal expressed concern that the article did not adequately protect the anonymity of the pregnant students or the privacy of their boyfriends and parents, and that the article's references to sexual activity and birth control were inappropriate for some of the younger students at the school. The principal also objected to another scheduled article, which dealt with the impact of divorce on students at the school, and in which a student who was identified by name made critical comments about her father. The principal, unaware that the student's name had been deleted from the final version of the article, believed that the student's parents should have been given an opportunity to respond to these remarks or to consent to their publication. Believing that there was no time to make the necessary changes in the articles, and that the newspaper would not appear before the end of the school year if printing were delayed, the principal directed the adviser to withhold from publication the two pages containing the two articles. Members of the newspaper's staff filed suit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri against the school district and school officials, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and monetary damages based on the allegation that the staff members' First Amendment rights had been violated. The District Court denied an injunction, holding that the principal's actions were reasonable. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed, holding that the newspaper was a public forum, and that school officials were entitled to censor the articles only if their publication could have resulted in tort liability to the school.
Was the principal’s decision to withhold the publication of the articles in question unreasonable, and violative of the staff members’ rights under the First Amendment?
The Court found that public schools did not possess all of the attributes of streets and other traditional public forums. The school had an interest in protecting the identity of the students in a pregnancy article as well as maintaining the integrity of student speech allowed in the school newspaper. Therefore, the Court posited that the principal’s actions