Student Press Law Center drops the hammer of legal knowledge on the administration of Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in defense of student media

(For the folks who need visual cues…)

In a formal letter that leaves no legal doubt, the Student Press Law Center took the administration at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School to the woodshed for its actions against student media adviser Adriana Chavira. The school hit Chavira with a three-day, unpaid suspension for refusing to censor a story her students published, something she is not legally allowed to do in California and ethically wan to do based on the concepts of free expression.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I signed on to the letter as a private citizen.)

As SPLC notes:

The article, which reported on a highly newsworthy topic at the time, was not obscene, defamatory or unlawfully invasive of anyone’s privacy rights; further, it did not serve to incite pupils “as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school,” all of which would be prohibited by the statute (Ca. Educ. Code Sec. 48907(a)). The article was protected speech. Indeed, had Ms. Chavira agreed to censor the story, as DPMHS administration demanded, she would likely have found herself a co-defendant with those same administrators in a lawsuit brought by the students.

It is, quite frankly, astounding that in the 82-page Notice of Suspension provided to Ms. Chavira, which consists mostly of copies of various district policies regarding school computer use, ethical behavior, an inapplicable HIPAA policy, student conduct, etc., the district fails to even mention Sec. 48907. While this shotgun approach makes a lot of noise, it fails to address the key issue: DPMHS officials ordered Ms. Chavira to break the law and she refused.

This isn’t a case of an organization asking politely for an institution to think better of a bad decision, for the good of humankind. This is basically breaking off a legal foot in a school district’s hindparts:

In 2009, in response to a series of retaliatory attacks on California’s student media advisers by administrators unable to censor student journalists directly, Section 48907 was amended to include specific protection for student media advisers. Indeed, it is almost as if the lawmakers who enacted Sec. 48907 had a crystal ball forecasting what is taking place at DPMHS now.

In particular, the statute includes the following:

“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” [Ca. Educ. Code Sec. 48907(g), emphasis added].

A three-day suspension without pay certainly constitutes the action proscribed by the statute.

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The full letter is linked at the top of the page, and it contains contacts and email addresses for DPMHS administrators. Please feel free to reach out and tell them what you think.

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