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Appreciating the Massachusetts Student Free Expression Law
By: Aaron Scibelli

It’s no secret that student journalism is, well, student-run. We cover anything from school and local events to restaurant, film, and music reviews. While none of these topics are particularly controversial, it is not hard to take the ease of publishing these articles for granted. This ease comes from the Massachusetts Student Free Expression Law, a law passed in 1988 which protects students’ right to publish and disseminate their views.


The law was created as a direct response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier that same year. Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier was a landmark case which established the precedent that student journalists do not have the protected right to publish and disseminate their views under school-sanctioned publications. The case came about when Cathy Kuhlmeier, a student at East Hazelwood High School in St. Louis County, Missouri, was denied the right to publish articles regarding teen pregnancy and divorce out of fear of disrupting the learning environment. Kuhlmeier, along with a few classmates, sued the school district on the basis of a First Amendment right violation. The case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of the school district in a 5-3 vote.


 I had the chance to discuss the topic with fellow Spectrum writer Sadie Gugliotta, who shared the sentiment that the Student Free Expression Law is “imperative” in a high school setting. “As a student it can feel like our ideas and voices are discounted because of our age. But, this law explicitly protects our right to express our values and opinions.” She added that she believes “it is essential to represent a plurality of perspectives and identities in a journalistic setting like Spectrum. I really feel that this law allows us to do that.” 


To this day, Massachusetts is one of only 17 states which has a law protecting student journalism from excessive censorship. While it only seems natural to protect these rights of students, the Student Free Expression Law is a luxury we are grateful for every day.

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