Students take school to court over yearbook content

CALIFORNIA ‘ The dispute over the yearbook at Salinas High School has escalated from a troubling incident to an impending trial.

Eight high school students are bringing suit against administrators for what they claim is censorship of their yearbook, the El Gabian, during the 2000-01 school year. The students’ attorney, Steven Andre, filed a complaint on Aug. 13 in Monterey County Superior Court.

The complaint alleges that principal Joseph Pawlick ‘censored the content of the El Gabian by illegally requiring students to remove and modify content.’

The students also ask for a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting the school ‘from restricting freedom of speech and the press,’ which is protected by the education code of the California Constitution and the First Amendment.

Former yearbook adviser Cynthia Hess said the superior court ruled in November that the case has merit, thus denying the district’s motion to dismiss. A trial date has yet to be set.

Hess said, in seeking a settlement, ‘the school is willing to do a whole list of things, but offer no future protection’ for student journalists.

The controversy began when administrators censored the 2000 edition of the yearbook, claiming the El Gabian contained gang references, sexual innuendoes and spelling and grammatical errors.

Some of the removed material included photographs of scantily dressed singers Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that Hess was removed from the position of yearbook adviser at the end of the 2000-01 school year. She said that while the court ruled the suit against Salinas High School would be allowed, her reinstatement would not be at issue.

The school claimed Hess was removed not because administrators disliked how she oversaw the yearbook, but to teach a math course.

To this, Hess responded, ‘I’ve taught yearbook as an additional period for years. I could teach five math classes and still teach yearbook. [The school’s reason] is crap.’