Judge refuses to order distribution of articles in California high school paper

A judge May 25 declined to grant an temporary restraining order to force the East Bakersfield High School principal to allow student journalists to distribute a feature spread on homosexual and transgendered students.

Kern County Superior Court Judge Arthur Wallace said more facts were needed, according to Christine Sun, an ACLU attorney representing the students.

The group of student journalists and student subjects of the story filed a lawsuit with the help of the ACLU on May 19, after Principal John Gibson ordered the newspaper staff to remove a spread of five articles about homosexual students at the school and homosexuality from the April issue of the Kernal student newspaper. School officials said the censorship was out of a concern for the safety of the students named in the articles.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit had asked the court to allow them to distribute the spread in the May 27 issue, the final one of the year.

But the judge refused to grant the order, saying a full hearing was needed to consider the evidence.

Sun said the school district implied it had additional evidence that was not presented in court, such as records of acts of violence at the school.

Kern School District spokesman John Teves said the “school district’s hands are tied” by state laws that prohibit officials from discussing student disciplinary matters.

“The principal has knowledge of these details, and knowledge of these details is what led him to be concerned about the impact of these articles on his campus,” Teves said. “I think the judge also indicated that this is a serious enough matter that it needs to be discussed in a setting and in a timeframe that allows an open and thorough investigation.”

The articles included interviews with openly gay students on campus about how they are treated, an in-depth interview with a gay student and her mother, interviews with a student and a local pastor who feel homosexuality is wrong, a story about the research that has been done about homosexuality and a story that listed statistics on homosexuality in America and violence against gays.

Sun said the Kernal editorial board has yet to meet and decide whether to file an appeal of Wallace’s ruling or wait for the matter to be resolved.

SPLC View: Because this is in California, one of six states with a student free expression statute, school officials must justify their censorship by showing either that the articles at issue are unlawful (libelous, obscene, etc.) — which these are not — or that they would incite students to engage in illegal acts and disrupt the school. It’s a difficult standard for school officials to meet.

Even so, it’s hard to fight evidence that hasn’t been revealed. That is apparently the dilemma confronting the students at BHS and their lawyers.

Absent some extraordinary circumstances, it is hard to imagine how the Kernal stories, which are well written and balanced, would pose a safety risk to the students named and quoted (with their parents’ permission) in the articles. As the students’ lawyer pointed out, all of the named students have already publicly disclosed their sexual identities and “just as a matter of logic