New Bill Would Protect Journalism Teachers

This story was written by Tulika Bose, Daily Bruin
At the national college newspaper convention in San Francisco last Friday, Sen. Leland Yee introduced new legislation that would make it illegal for administrators to discipline high school and college journalism advisors based on content published in school newspapers.

Adam Keigwin, the assistant president pro tem for Yee's office, said Senate Bill 1370 was an extension of a bill Yee introduced two years ago that specifically prohibited prior restraint by administrators toward student publications.

According to a press release, the bill will be considered by the state senate in March.

If passed, SB 1370 would make it illegal to fire, transfer, re-assign, or discipline a journalism teacher or advisor for acting in the interest of free student speech.

Keigwin said public school administrators who were uncomfortable with views or opinions expressed in student newspapers had attempted to reassign, discipline, and even fire faculty advisors who stood up for the students' right to free speech.

"This year, we've heard of administrators going after the faculty as a result of student speech.... Inevitably, that is threatening free speech and the student's right," Keigwin said.

According to a press release issued from Yee's office, cases of administrative retaliation on journalism advisors and instructors have been heard of from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Claremont, Fremont, Novato, Oxnard, Rialto and Garden Grove.

Darryl Adams, the former newspaper advisor for John Glenn High School, said he was removed from his post after he defended an editorial written by a student in November 2006 that criticized random searches at school.

Despite changes made by the student after the school administration found an early copy of the article, Adams said the next issues of the student newspapers were later confiscated by the administration to be checked for "errors." The administrative staff later demanded to check all of the papers before they were published.

"I told (the administration), 'You're not checking the paper for errors, you're checking it for censorship.'"

Adams said he was subsequently stripped of all of his extra-curricular titles, including basketball coach and football announcer, despite having started the award-winning 16-page paper from scratch.

Other school newspaper advisors had similar stories.

Rick Whited, the former journalism teacher and newspaper advisor for Rialto High School, said his position as faculty advisor and journalism teacher was given to another faculty member after the newspaper ran a story on a mistake the administration had with standardized testing.

"The administration had messed up the testing, and they had kids sitting in the quads because all the kids needed more time to take the test," Whited said. "As a result we ran a story on it... and pressure came from the administration to make the school look better. It really was, 'So it's my way, or we'll replace you.'"

Whited said though he couldn't be fired because of tenure, he was frustrated by his lack of recourse for disputing his reassignment.

"You can't take the newspaper away from someone just because you don't like what they're printing," Whited said.

In a statement, Yee addressed the actions of the school administrators.

"It is quite disheartening to hear that after we specifically prohibited prior restraint by administrators, that some are engaging in this type of nefarious activity and even firing quality teachers because of content in the student newspaper," Yee said in a statement.
© 2008 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE
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