A Miami native, Karla Kennedy graduated from the University of Miami in 1988 with a degree in Communication and joined the Miami-Dade County public schools as a language arts and journalism teacher.
She taught a variety of subjects, including journalism, television production, language arts, drama and creative writing. She advised student publications for 17 years.
Her former students work for The New York Times, the Tampa Bay daily, MTV, and other media outlets. She is still in contact with most of them.
She understands the unique challenges and needs of journalism teachers, having walked in those shoes. She has been a mentor to many teachers in Florida, where she became a strong advocate for the freedoms and rights of the student journalist.
In 2004, she earned a Masters degree in Student Media Advising from Florida International University, and in 2005 was an American Society of Newspapers Editors’ fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 2007, she was recognized as the Teacher of the Year at Miami Norland Senior High and became a Florida Region 3 finalist. She went on to be named Florida Journalism Teacher of the Year by the Florida Scholastic Press Association. Her research interest is in student speech with an emphasis in First Amendment Rights for student journalists.
She completed her dissertation for her doctorate degree in journalism from the University of Florida in 2012. She explored the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Morse v. Frederick (2007) on a school board’s student speech and student publications policies. In Morse, a school speech case, the United States Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent educators from suppressing student speech, at a school-supervised event, that is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
In 2002, high school principal Deborah Morse suspended 18-year-old Joseph Frederick after he displayed a banner reading “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” across the street from the school during the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay. Frederick sued, claiming his constitutional rights to free speech were violated. His suit was dismissed by the federal district court, but on appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed, concluding that Frederick’s speech rights were violated.
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, concluded that the school officials did not violate the First Amendment. To do so, he made three legal determinations: first, that “school speech” doctrine should apply because Frederick’s speech occurred “at a school event”; second, that the speech was “reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use”; and third, that a principal may legally restrict that speech—based on the three existing First Amendment school speech precedents, other Constitutional jurisprudence relating to schools, and a school’s “important—indeed, perhaps compelling interest” in deterring drug use by students.
To Kennedy, the case underscores the importance of self-realization among teenagers as a key step in understanding their First Amendment freedoms and acting as an individual in a democratic society. As we talked about the case, she passionately and expertly discussed the real lesson that should be learned from this case.