Judge will not order Calif. school officials to allow articles to be distributed

CALIFORNIA — A judge today 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 students at the school.

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 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 in today’s hearing, 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.”

But Sun said the students still assert that the articles do not pose a safety risk to students named and quoted in the articles.

“Just as a matter of logic, given that these students are already out, there’s no new information in those articles that’s going to have anything to do with their safety,” she said. “And our argument was that there is nothing in those articles that would incite people to do unlawful activity. They are educational, balanced articles from a variety of viewpoints.”

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. The final issue of the newspaper was scheduled to go to press today.

–By Campbell Roth

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