High school editor fired for not asking permission to interview gay students

CALIFORNIA — The editor of the Troy High school student newspaper was fired Friday after school administrators accused her of violating a section of the California Education Code that requires written consent from parents before questioning students about their homosexuality.

Ann Long’s article, which appeared in the Dec. 17 issue of The Oracle, featured candid personal quotations from three student members of Troy High School’s Gay Straight Alliance.

“I intended for my article to be something that could help the student body better understand the emotional undercurrent of their fellow non-heterosexual classmates,” Long said.

Section 51513 of the California Education Code reads, “No test, questionnaire, survey, or examination containing any questions about the pupil’s personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion…shall be administered to any pupil in kindergarten or grades 1 to 12…unless the parent or guardian of the pupil is notified in writing.”

One of the students featured in the article is 15 years old, one is 17 and the other is 18.

Assistant Principal Joseph D’Amelia and newspaper adviser Georgette Cerrutti told Long her article violated the code.

During a meeting on Jan. 21, Long told D’Amelia that she had previously reviewed her story with Cerrutti, who Long says never explicitly mentioned the need to contact the parents of the students featured in her article. D’Amelia and Cerrutti asked Long if she had checked with the parents before questioning the students about their homosexuality, to which Long replied that she had not.

Long offered to call the parents and apologize, but was told by the administrators her offer “wasn’t good enough.”

“They said, ‘We might have a problem here.’ They implied that I would have to resign, that I would get in trouble,” Long says. To her knowledge, no parental complaints were ever made about the article.

D’Amelia and Cerrutti spoke with Long again on Jan. 24. During the meeting Long was told that because she had not adhered to the code’s guidelines she had a choice: resign or be fired. D’Amelia and Cerrutti said this was the “only way” the situation could be solved, Long said. They told her she was being removed for failing to do her job.

Critics of the high school administrators’ decision believe section 51513 can not be cited in reference to Long’s situation.

A representative for the California Department of Education said that section 51513 has not been cited before in cases involving student newspapers.

“It applies, we believe, to tests and questionnaires that the district asks the students to answer,” said Tina Jung, an information officer for the state department of education.

Mark Child, director of the Journalism Education Association’s Southern California chapter, said he is “well-versed” in the law and does not believe section 51513 is applicable to Long’s situation.

“I am unaware of anything that says you necessarily need to get a parent’s consent before you cover the student [in a student newspaper] from the standpoint of sexual orientation or preference, religious preference or anything like that,” Child said.

The executive director of the Student Press Law Center, Mark Goodman, also says section 51513 was wrongly applied.

“This law has nothing to do with students talking to other students,” Goodman said.

“In fact, other sections of the California Education Code specifically protect the free press and free expression rights of students,” Goodman added, referring to sections 48907 and 48950, which limit school officials’ ability to censor or punish students for their expression.

Long says it may be difficult for her to take legal action because she believes there is a contradiction between what administrators are stating publicly and what they are telling her about their reasons for her removal.

“They’re saying now that my adviser is choosing to remove me and that she has the prerogative to do that,” Long said. “But they still cited that I broke the code, so I don’t really understand.”

Numerous calls to several Troy High School officials were not returned.

–By Britt Hulit