The First Amendment's freedom-of-speech protections do not prohibit high school officials from censoring student newspapers, an attorney for the Hazelwood, Mo., school district told the Supreme Court yesterday.

Attorney Robert P. Baine Jr. argued that, because production of the newspaper was part of the school curriculum, the principal of Hazelwood East High School did not violate students' constitutional rights when he pulled articles on divorce and teen-age pregnancy from a May 1983 edition.

"Some information in the article might make it appear the school condoned the activity of these young girls who had gotten pregnant," Baine said. ". . . As curricular writing, it was subject to the control of the principal."

But an attorney for three students who worked on the school newspaper said that, while some editorial control is acceptable, the First Amendment prohibits school principals from censoring student writing solely because they object to the point of view it expresses.

"I think he {the principal} can limit the {overall journalism} program," said Leslie D. Edwards. Instead, she added, "He limited one idea."

Justice Antonin Scalia, pursuing the question of how much control school officials can exert, said: "You either have to have no school paper or a school paper that says things like, 'smoking pot is fun' . . . You leave us with a terrible choice."

"I don't think it has to be one or the other," Edwards said, arguing that while the principal was outside the journalistic process, newspaper advisers and journalism teachers can control content within bounds, as long as they are not suppressing a specific point of view.

"It's a fine point of language," said Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. "Some people might call it editing, others might call it censorship."

While the extent of constitutional protection for students has been an issue before the Supreme Court in the past, attorneys said the Hazelwood case would set new standards for school officials across the country who must decide how much freedom of speech to allow students.

"It could be of enormous importance symbolically," said Bruce Sanford, a First Amendment lawyer. "It presents the court with a case where it could make some rather dramatic announcements about the rights of students to speak freely."

The case argued before the court yesterday stems from a challenge brought in August 1983 by Cathy Kuhlmeier, Leanne Tippett and Leslie Smart -- Hazelwood students at the time when principal Robert E. Reynolds censored the two articles. A federal district court ruled that the students' constitutional rights were not violated because the newspaper, Spectrum, was not a "public forum" and therefore not subject to the same First Amendment protections available outside a school setting.

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned the ruling in July 1986, stating that the newspaper is "a public forum for the expression of student opinion" and the articles would not have disrupted the school or invaded the rights of others. The Hazelwood School District appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

In a 1969 case involving Des Moines schools, the court decided that a regulation prohibiting students from wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam war violated the First Amendment. The court said that high school students do not "shed their constitutional rights . . . at the schoolhouse gate."

But the court restricted free-speech rights for students in a case last year involving a Spanaway, Wash., student who had included sexual innuendoes in a campaign speech he delivered. In that opinion, the court gave school officials wide latitude in disciplining students for "vulgar and offensive" language.