FREE PRESS — Two leading authorities on the First Amendment rights of student
journalists say that administrators at the Orange County High School of
the Arts crossed a legal line when they halted publication of the school's newspaper last week, reports Scott Martindale in the Orange County Register.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based Student
Press Law Center advocacy group, and Rick Pullen, dean of Cal State
Fullerton's communications school, told the Register that Principal Sue
Vaughn appeared to have no legally justifiable reason to stop the
newspaper's publication and should be ordered to receive training in
First Amendment law.
"The principal needs a civics lesson and
should be more aware of what (California) Education Code provides,"
Pullen said. "California is one of the few states that still provide
high school journalists the freedom to express themselves without
Vaughn defended her decision to temporarily halt
the printing of 1,500 copies of the student-run "Evolution" newspaper
Wednesday, saying she wanted to discuss her concerns with the students
prior to publication. In an interview Thursday, she said she never
intended to censor the students or permanently stop the paper from
But legal experts say the students' First
Amendment rights were violated at the moment administrators ordered the
paper to stop printing. "Under state and federal law, their
rights were violated when they wanted to distribute the paper and were
stopped from doing so," LoMonte said. "This is one of the more flagrant
violations we've seen."
The paper's editor, senior Taylor Erickson, 17, said Vaughn and Assistant Principal Michael Ciecek had primarily objected
to an article reporting that the school's new cafeteria services
provider, Long Beach-based Alegre Foods, is a Christian company that makes it a mission to "serve God," according to the company's Web site.
confirmed Thursday that Alegre's religious affiliation was one of the
factors that led her to authorize the printing delay, noting she
believed the information was irrelevant and should not have been
included in the article. But Vaughn also said a school
official had been misquoted in that article and that she was concerned
about the accuracy of a second article characterizing the faculty as
having "an attitude filled with boldness and spiciness." Vaughn,
however, said she hadn't requested any changes to the second article.
administrator's conduct is a textbook illustration of why prior review
shouldn't be allowed," LoMonte said. "Administrators will always claim
that they are just looking for libelous or destructive content, but
they can never keep themselves from trying to get rid of embarrassing
or negative information."
California Education Code Section
48907 states that student have full rights to freedom of speech and
freedom of the press unless the material is "obscene, libelous or
slanderous" or incites students to "create a clear and present danger"
on the campus or "substantial disruption" to school operations. None
of these exceptions applied when school administrators postponed
publication and asked for changes to content, LoMonte and Pullen said.
In an informal poll on the Register website, more than 2/3 of the just under 1100 respondents took a stand favoring student editorial freedom, voting that school officials had the right to see student newspapers before publication either "only to make sure the paper's content doesn't create an imminent danger to students or disrupt campus operations" (35 percent) or not at all (35 percent).
The Education Code gives this function not to school administrators but to the newspaper's faculty advisor, typically a journalism teacher.