Students Win Settlement in California Free Speech Case
As a result of a legal settlement at a California high school, school administrators are on notice to stop censoring student speech.
After settling an 18-month legal battle, Fallbrook Union High School District must pay nearly $28,000 as a result of a principal violating the speech rights of student journalists and unfairly retaliating against the high school’s newspaper advisor. In addition, the Fallbrook administration is obligated to issue letters praising the student journalists as part of the lawsuit settlement.
In 2008, Fallbrook high school teacher Dave Evans was removed by the principal as the newspaper advisor a day after Evans warned the school board that parents and students were preparing to sue the district for the principal’s censorship of a news article about the dismissal of the superintendent and an editorial critical of the federal government’s abstinence-only sex education program. The principal, Rod King, also cancelled the journalism program, which had just captured second place in the American Scholastic Press Association national competition.
In 2006, I authored a law that prohibits censorship of student press by administrators and protects students from being disciplined for engaging in speech or press activities. In 2008, we followed up with a law to protect high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech.
Allowing censorship by a school district undermines the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as a watchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of administrators. School principals should be supporting student free expression and fostering an open dialogue of ideas; not teaching values that are contrary to the foundation of our republic.
I am committed to continuing our legislative efforts to prohibit prior restraint of student press and protect journalism advisors and other employees who defend students’ speech rights. In fact, tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider SB 438, which explicitly states that California charter schools must adhere to the state’s student speech and employee protection laws.
Recently, administrators at the Orange County High School of the Arts interpreted state law to not include charter schools when they halted printing of the student newspaper last September.
Students in California, and throughout the country, have a fundamental right to free expression. It is quite disheartening to hear that taxpayer-funded charter schools think their students do not deserve the same rights as those afforded to students at public and private schools throughout our state.
Please join me and the California Newspaper Publishers Association, California Federation of Teacher, California Scholastic Journalism Initiative, and American Civil Liberties Union in support of SB 438.