The Student Press Law Center highlighted Adriana Chavira’s situation on its website, explaining the school’s “rationale” behind the suspension:
Ms. Chavira was informed on Sept. 1, that she was being suspended for three days without pay and a disciplinary notice was being put in her personnel file due to her refusal to remove information from a story published in the Pearl Post, the independent newspaper at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School (DPMHS) in Lake Balboa, California, where Ms. Chavira is the long-time adviser.
The story reported on the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on school staff and noted that after the vaccine mandate was put in place, the school librarian did not show up for school. The former librarian demanded that any reference to her be removed from the story.
When Chavira declined to step all over her students’ free press rights, as they are allowed to make the final decisions related to content, the school hit her with the suspension.
Under normal circumstances, an administrator overreaching for no good reason and attempting to censor student media would be considered ham-handed and dumb. In this case, it’s pathologically stupid for the following reasons:
THE LOCATION: The school is located in California, which has some of the country’s most expansive laws that protect student media from this kind of censorship. The law was put into place back when “Star Wars” was a new concept, and demands that students of all public schools, including charter schools, be given the editorial discretion over content.
Furthermore, the law states: “An employee shall not be dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against solely for acting to protect a pupil engaged in the conduct authorized under this section, or refusing to infringe upon conduct that is protected by this section, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or Section 2 of Article I of the California Constitution.”
This is a long-held, unambiguous legal declaration that school administrators should keep their grubby paws off of student media. The school has a steep climb to demonstrate how and why it expects to get away with what it’s doing here.
THE ADVISER: Adriana Chavira has almost 20 years of teaching experience, extensive advising experience and about 10 years of professional journalism experience. She knows the ropes, so it’s not like they’re trying to boss around some newbie who got stuck advising the paper because they once wrote a letter to the editor. She also knows what can get kids into trouble, so it’s clear she would advise them not to publish content that might be libelous. How the school thought it was a good idea to go after her is beyond me.
THE TOPIC: As I’ve noted before, my friend Allison and I used to defuse each other when we got all riled up about something by asking, “Is this really the hill you want to die on?” In other words, is this really worth it? In this case, clearly not.
First, it’s not like not naming the librarian would somehow shield her from being known in the audience.
Second, there would be almost no legal reason she couldn’t be named (I can’t think of one, but that’s why I’m only holding down the fort in media law this year instead of teaching it full time.)
Third, why is THIS STORY so vitally important that you’d risk a massive lawsuit and tons of negative publicity by suspending Chavira? SPLC, NAHJ, JEA and other alphabet soup groups are already banging the drum on this, and the law is so clearly on her side that it’s ridiculous. In addition, now EVERYONE is paying attention to the story across the country and beyond.
THE SCHOOL: The Daniel Pearl Magnet High School is named for journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by a terrorist group while reporting in Pakistan. Pearl was an incredible reporter who worked for the Wall Street Journal, focusing on international affairs. His work uncovered that allegations of genocide in Kosovo were untrue and that a U.S. missile attack destroyed a pharmaceutical building, not a military target, in Khartoum.
After Pearl’s death, multiple organizations developed awards and scholarships in his honor. In 2010, President Obama signed the “Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act,” which increased scrutiny of organizations and governments that sought to silence the free press. According to its website, the Daniel Pearl Foundation “continues to promote tolerance, dialogue, and the highest standards of the free press.”
The administration of the Daniel Pearl Magnet High School enacting this kind of blatant and overreaching censorship has the same internal logic as deciding Jackie Robinson High School should have segregated bathrooms. If there were a better way to illustrate irony and draw terrible media coverage at the same time, I can’t think of what it would be.
At the moment, Chavira continues to fight the suspension and she appears to have a good amount of support, as well as a pretty strong leg to stand on from a legal standpoint.
In the mean time, you can send her a supportive message through her Twitter account here.
You can also email school principal Armen Petrossian, who has declined comment through the school district’s PR arm, through this form, letting him know what you think of his decision to suspend someone for supporting the free-press standards of his school’s namesake.
(I’ve got an email into the foundation for a comment and a message in to Chavira for an interview on all this. More to follow if it comes through…)