Sunday, April 05, 2009

Disputed article, editorial printed in school paper

This from the San Diego Union-Tribune:

Ban on writings had spurred suit

FALLBROOK — A special edition of Fallbrook High School's student newspaper has published an article and an editorial that the principal and school district had killed, resulting in a lawsuit.

The two pieces were killed by Fallbrook High principal Rod King, who had concerns about possible inaccuracies and the tone of the editorial. Scheduled for publication in May 2008, the editorial criticized abstinence-only sex education. The news story, written in late 2007, was critical of former Superintendent Tom Anthony.

In November, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Fallbrook Union High School District for violating the free speech of students. The lawsuit has not been resolved.

Superintendent Dale Mitchell said the two pieces were printed last week in The Tomahawk because of new articles that ran with them that explained the controversy. He said the district is interested in resolving the lawsuit without going to court.

“It's a victory for free speech that the district finally lifted the ban on publishing the article and the editorial,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial counties. “It should not have had to take a lawsuit and motion to do it.”

The article alleged that Anthony, whose contract the district bought out in early 2008, was slow to evacuate the high school during the October 2007 wildfires. It said Anthony had met with fire and law enforcement officials and was advised to immediately declare an evacuation. The article didn't give the source of the information or include any comments from the people who were allegedly in the meeting. The district said no such meeting occurred.

King said he doubted the editorial was written only by students, and said it lacked pertinent information. A fact box in last week's edition notes that Fallbrook High teaches about contraceptives and abstinence.

The writers of the disputed pieces have since graduated, and the school is no longer offering journalism as a class..

This from the Student Press Law Center:

Adviser removed at Calif. high school

after challenging principal's censorship

CALIFORNIA — Administrators removed a journalism adviser from his position at Fallbrook High School after he defended students against two instances of censorship.
The Tomahawk, the student newspaper at the Fallbrook, Calif., high school, was first censored in November when it was covering the removal of former superintendent Tom Anthony by the Board of Trustees. Principal Rod King required the paper to remove the story, said David Evans, the adviser.

The paper was again censored in May, while it was preparing its final issue of the year. A student wrote an editorial that was critical of federal support of abstinence-only education. In an e-mail to Evans, King said he was "not at all comfortable" with the editorial, saying it was "one-sided" and controversial.

"You have done such a great job with the paper this year, to end it with such a one sided controversial piece would not do justice to all the great accomplishments," King wrote.

But both instances of censorship were in violation of the California Education Code, which states that censorship is legal only if the content is "obscene, libelous, or slanderous" or incites danger or a substantial disruption of the school, wrote Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center, in a letter to Evans.

Goldstein wrote that the justifications given for censorship of the editorial by the principal don't meet applicable legal standards.

"Nothing in the law cares about the principal's comfort level or permits censorship of controversial topics," Goldstein wrote...

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