As Julie Asher accurately pointed out in "Censorship at School" {Outlook, June 7}, censorship of high school student publications is a fact of life for many student journalists. The 551 requests for legal assistance received by the Student Press Law Center in 1986 from high school and college journalists across the country tell us the problem is not only found here in Washington.

But what Miss Asher missed is the fact that censorship of student publications by public school officials is against the law. For more than 15 years, every court that has confronted the issue of student newspaper censorship in this country has said student journalists, like their professional counterparts, are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.

Ten years ago, the D.C. area saw firsthand a demonstration of blatant school censorship and the limitations the courts place on it. In 1976, the student editors of The Farm News at Hayfield High School in Fairfax County discovered through an informal survey that many of their peers who were sexually active were not using any form of birth control. They decided to prepare an article for the newspaper on the various methods of contraception available. The principal got wind of the article and refused to allow its publication, and the school board affirmed his decision. Two students took the school district to court claiming infringement of their First Amendment rights. In 1977, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said the students were right.

As the court pointed out, public school officials are just as much "government" as the town mayor or the county sheriff. And the First Amendment says government cannot censor what the public has to say.

Courts from Maine to California have agreed: public schools cannot censor their student newspapers just because a story is sensitive, a topic is controversial or an editorial is critical. The Supreme Court has agreed to look at the issue next term when it decides whether a public high school in suburban St. Louis infringed student First Amendment rights when it censored stories about teen-age pregnancy and the effects of divorce on children. The school said such topics were "inappropriate" for high school students. The students, the national organizations of high school journalism advisers and the Press Law Center think otherwise.

As Miss Asher made clear, censoring student publications doesn't make sense if a school wants its students to think critically and to respect an individual's right to voice his opinion. But what I find just as disturbing is that most of the censors in our public schools know that what they are doing is against the law, and they don't care. They know that maybe one student in a thousand will have the support from peers and parents as well as the financial wherewithal and the courage to take them to court.

We still get an occasional call about censorship in Fairfax County. The schools know they can get away with it, and they do. MARK GOODMAN Executive Director, Student Press Law Center Washington