Calif. school allows newspaper adviser to keep job for coming school year

CALIFORNIA — Janet Ewell has her job back — for now.

The veteran adviser at Rancho Alamitos High School’s LaNueva Voz was reinstated July 1, nearly a month after theprincipal removed her because her students published several editorialscritical of the school.

A letter written by Assistant Superintendent Mike Miller notedthat Ewell’s reinstatement was due to the failure of principalGene Campbell to give sufficient notice of her reassignment. It also stated that she could be replaced at the end of next year because ofperformance concerns.

"Mr. Campbell does have concerns regarding your performance,however, it appears that you were not clearly aware of the standardsfor the school newspaper and therefore, you were not given anopportunity to meet those expectations," the letter stated.

Miller also said he had found no evidence that Campbell censoredthe award-winning paper.

Ewell said the district’s decision was a step in the rightdirection, but not enough.

"I do wish to accept the district’s offer and I expectto do so, but feel that certain matters need to be addressed first,"Ewell said.

The 11-year adviser said California’s Student Free ExpressionLaw (Education Code section 48907) provides her students protectionto publish controversial content.

In the letter, the district notes that if Ewell decides toaccept her reinstatement, she will have to agree to their conditions,including one provision that Ewell said would unfairly ask herto control the content of the paper.

"The school newspaper will reflect the highest standardsof journalism and report accurate news that reflect [sic] an appropriatebalance of student achievement (athletic and academic), campuslife, community service projects, human interest stories (staffand students), cultural awareness and school-related events,"the letter states.

Ewell said that request violates the law, which affords highschool students the right to determine the content of their publicationsunless the material is obscene, libelous, or incites studentsto substantial disruption or law breaking.

"In a way, this is an opportunity for me to help the administrationto come to understand section 48907 better," Ewell said.

Even though Ewell expects to be dismissed after this comingyear, she plans to pursue other changes in California to ensurethat advisers’ jobs are not unfairly put in jeopardy again.

"We need to increase the status of high school journalismin the state and educate our administrators on both the importanceof section 48907 and its implications," Ewell said. "Whenwe do these things, situations like mine will become more andmore rare."

View California’s Student Free Expression Law (Education Code section 48907) in our Law Library.Read our previous coverage.