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High School Journalism Teacher Suspended After Standing Up for Student Reporters' Free Speech Rights

Free speech doesn't end at the classroom door.

Administrators at one California high school reacted in all the wrong ways when student reporters tried to write a newspaper article about the recent dismissal of a popular teacher and debate coach.

San Gabriel High School principal Jim Schofield sent an email telling newspaper adviser Jennifer Kim to kill the story and suggested running a fluffy profile piece instead. Kim backed her students when they wanted to fight for their right to publish, and she was later suspended and remains on indefinite administrative leave. Officials from San Gabriel High and the Alhambra Unified School District declined to comment.

The free speech rights of public high school students can be a complicated matter, so Reason TV brought in Ken White, a First Amendment attorney, blogger at Popehat, and Reason contributing editor, to parse some of legal issues. He says that although the Supreme Court and California law offer some guidance, he's concerned about an educational environment in which administrators model anti-speech values.

"I worry about a generation of kids whose rights have not only been taken away but who have been taught by overcautious school administrators to scorn rights, to not believe in them, and to question them," says White.

Watch Reason TV's coverage of this case above. Approximately 7 minutes. Produced and shot by Zach Weissmueller. Music by Rho.

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  • Vulgar Madman||

    Well Ken, I'd say they're getting a good instruction on how this country is actually run.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes, this country is run by egotists who can NOT tolerate criticism.

    Sad to say, it is as true of many business leaders, as it is of politicians and of public administrators and bureaucrats of various stripes.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Also sad to say: Unlike the business jerks (who we can boycott), we are not free to boycott our Government Almighty "servants"-become-masters.

  • Cloudbuster||

    But you can take your kids out of public schools.

  • Suicidy||

    We still have to pay for the government schools though.

  • Neon Bible||

    It's like getting a pet hamster for your kids: it'll teach them a LOT of lessons about life, just not necessarily the ones you intended.

  • Free Society||

    So that's what it takes to fire a teacher.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Winner.

  • ThomasD||

    "... although the Supreme Court and California law offer some guidance..."

    Yeah, some guidance. That guidance being that a publisher's editorial discretion is absolute. And if your employees - paid or unpaid - do not like it they can go elsewehere.

    Which actually is a good lesson for any budding journalist to learn. Heck every high school student should probably learn the fact that people only pay to print things they want printed and that everything else gets shitcanned.

    Public schools excel at teaching things that they do not want their students to learn.

  • UCrawford||

    Exactly. The school has ownership of the publication, therefore the school can kill a story if they wish. It's one of the most important lessons a journalist can learn...your job is not a search for objective truth, it's writing what the boss wants you to write.

    Unfortunately a great many journalists seem to be in denial about this.

  • DarrenM||

    And who has ownership of the school?

  • DesigNate||

    The government.

    Which is everyone but the people that pay taxes for it.

  • ||

    Nice definition.

  • ThomasD||

    The owners have chosen a person whom they have placed in lawful charge of the school. That person is therefore the publisher.

    If the owners do not like the way the publisher is performing his duties they can take appropriate action.

  • Freedomist||

    The key difference is that commercial newspapers are privately owned, whereas public schools and government must follow the first amendment, no matter who is in charge. One of the contradictions of public schools is the need for school discipline versus the constitutional rights of students. Private schools don't have this problem.

  • Suicidy||

    Like how to hold their teacher's load in their mouth and swallow all of it?

  • crufus||

    Actually, the video said that student newspapers have protections under California law that are meant to prevent the school authorities from censoring them. They were forced to allow the publication of the article even though they initially tried to prevent it.

    The school appears to have retaliated against the journalism teacher for not suppressing the article. The students have been fighting back by showing up at public school board meetings to repeatedly question the school board about the whole thing.

    Looks like the students are showing some real balls, but I would not be surprised to hear that the school found a way to retaliate against them.

  • ThomasD||

    Said law being established by the State legislature.

    So we have a situation where local control of the school is being usurped by a far removed body.

    While I do not like to see what the local authorities are specifically doing in this case I think it best that people suffer the consequences from those they are most able to assert control over.

    Such situations being more easily remedied, or - if accepted by the local populace - most representative of the wishes of the local community.

    The rights of free speech and freedom the press do not entitle anyone to force someone else to speak, or force someone else to publish things they do not wish published.

    Libertarianism must work both ways or it is not libertarianism.

  • Freedomist||

    Given the choice between local tyranny and far-away defenders of constitutional rights and freedom, I'll choose the far-away power. Unfortunately, too much tyranny originates in far-away power, and local democracy doesn't always produce the best results.

  • ||

    That's precious. A lawyer defending free speech.

    I'm still waiting for comrade White to come out and call for the repeal of UPL (unauthorized practice of law) statutes.

    Must be too busy defending free speech to work on eliminating laws that restrict speech.

    That's the ticket.

    Or maybe he just likes the fact that he enjoys a monopoly on certain speech.

  • FYTW||

    UPL laws are anti-fraud provisions, fuckstick, not "laws that restrict speech." You don't have a free speech right to hold yourself out as a lawyer when you're not, any more than you have a free speech right to hold yourself out as a doctor when you're not.

  • ThomasD||

    Except this isn't free speech.

    If the students (and their teacher) had taken their own money and printed up their own flyers, then distributed them on their own time and had been punished for it then, and only then would this be a free speech issue.

    But since they employed the resources of others, against those others wishes, that is not the case here.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    You seem to like authoritah dick....why is that? Are you a school administrator?

  • ThomasD||

    Go fuck yourself.

    You are the statist prick worshiper here.

    What if the student was trying to publish anti-miscegenation/stormfront claptrap - would you still be supporting his 'right' to force the school to publish it?

    Or would you try to argue that was somehow different? Because as soon as you begin considering the content of the speech you have admitted that the issue is not about the First Amendment.

    Choke on that.

  • Migrant Log Chipper||

    Let's not forget the "resources" you are talking about don't belong to the principal, they belong to the people that paid the taxes to hire this jackass. What a dumbass assertion.

  • ThomasD||

    And, as I noted, the people that paid the taxes are in the best position to remedy the situation.

    IF they so choose.

    Why do you have a problem with that?

  • ThomasD||

    Which is also a prime example of why most left leaning people fail at anything approaching real libertarianism. They look at situations as one person having "rights" and the other person being wrong.

    When it is more often a situation of two persons having competing or conflicting rights.

    The student and his teacher are the ones who usurped the rights of others. Everything else follows from that.

  • Matchstick||

    This exchange shows why there should be NO GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS.

  • Bgoptmst||

    I currently live in SoCal, and I can't emphasize enough that this type of thought is okay to the population here. A guy I crossfit with was fired up the other day because a buddy took him to the range. His issue was just "anyone" could rent a weapon at this range and shoot it. I was pretty noncommittal about the whole thing, and after his rant he asked if he could go with me next time I hit the range.

    I don't know what the water does to these people, but they actually believe their own bullshit. He was super happy restricting the ability of people to shoot even though he felt he should be able to.

    I plan on moving next year when I retire to places where the hypocrites at least make decent biscuits and gravy.

  • Alan@.4||

    Strikes me that there is a simple, direct, slightly crude phrase or word usable to describe the person you speak of, ASSHOLE

  • Bgoptmst||

    Ha ha; maybe a touch. In general he isn't a bad guy. He just grew up with the California mentality ... You know socialism is good, progress to the future comrades!

  • Alan@.4||

    Sounds more like it's the administrators that should be suspended or better than suspended, how about fired.

  • GamerFromJump||

    "The free speech rights of public high school students can be a complicated matter"

    Only because the ones making it complicated haven't been FUCKING SHOT!

  • skunkman||

    This is the type of thing you should expect when you educate all of the school district administrators and the school principal in the exact same way. There are way too many mindless, control freaks in leadership roles.

  • Freedomist||

    I remember back in the late 1960s when Livonia, Michigan students were indefinitely suspended for distributing their unauthorized newspaper at their high school. Administrators demanded that students sign a document promising to not distribute their paper in the future as a condition for reinstatement. The ACLU got involved and successfully sued the administrators, based on their "prior restraint" of students' First Amendment rights. The principle is the same in this San Gabriel High School case. Despite all the badmouthing ACLU has received from the right, they mostly do good work.

  • Lena Graham||

    well..there's nothing new to it..usually great stories about some controversial stuff which could affect some institutions get killed jut because some doesn't like what the reporter talks about..probably that's why many just use internet for such things..still..it is said that such things do happen in school as well..but then such principals should not get surprised at finding out their students are going to essay typing service..

  • alex martin||

    why are these cases so rampant today. Why are the students denied their rights, this is so unfortunate. Those who are committed to fight for the rights of the weak are also criticized. students also have theri rights and their rights need to be upheld. intimidation is not the way. I work for essay writer and i have come across such issues in my research.Thanks a lot for raising this issue.

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