Story about course catalog error triggers confiscation of papers at Calif. high school

CALIFORNIA — When The Talon at Rubidoux HighSchool in Riverside reported on an alleged error in the school’scourse catalog on April 4, the principal confiscated all 2,200copies of the paper before distribution and threatened to shutdown the newspaper.

Reporter Elizabeth Brizendine wrote a story claiming the school’scourse catalog misled students when it wrongfully stated theycould receive college credit for the course "Mythology andSci-fi."

Principal Jay Trujillo originally allowed the story to be runas long as the Talon removed what he saw as inaccurateinformation, editor Matt Medina said. But after Brizendine alteredthe story and added a quote, Trujillo notified the Talonthat he changed his mind on the morning the paper was to be distributed.

Trujillo cited an inaccurate statement — that the error affected"some" students and not just one, as he holds — anda "vulgar" remark — the use of the word "screwed"in a student’s quote — as grounds for his censorship, said MeganStarr, a school attorney.

Although California has an anti-Hazelwood law that permitscensorship only in cases where publication will cause a disruptionin the school, Trujillo felt his objections were valid.

The censorship has led the Talon and Trujillo to a distributionstalemate.

Trujillo did not budge from his stance when the Talonstaff offered to make a public announcement in the school andprint a clarification in the next issue.

"The principal [felt] that that would be inadequate,"Starr said. Likewise, the Talon refused to go along with Trujillo’ssuggestion to reprint the entire run of the issue with the questionablematerial removed, Medina said.

Five members of the Talon staff appealed Trujillo’sdecision during an open forum at an April 15 school board meeting.The board will officially make a decision at its next meetingat the end of the month, and Medina said in the interim he plansto "lobby" individual board members "to tell themwhat our cause is, where we’re coming from and just to have theirsupport."

Medina said the next Talon, due out on May 2, will includea front-page article and editorial on the censorship. This issuewill also be subject to prior review by Trujillo, he said.

Read the California Student Free Expression Law in our Law Library.