Retrial ordered in seven-year-old underground newspaper case in California

The California Supreme Court denied an appeal March 28filed by a former Palisades High School teacher who alleged her school districtwas responsible for an underground student newspaper article in 2000 thatdescribed her as a pornography film actress.

The decision, whichfollows seven years of litigation, multiple court rulings and a change in thestate’s employment law, means the case will need to start fromscratch.

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SPLCView: This latest ruling is good news for the school district — and in theshort term for California students — but the threat to student free speechrights may already have been done by a 2003 amendment to the state’s FairEmployment and Housing Act that says a school district may be held liable forsexual harassment of teachers and other district workers by non-districtemployees, possibly including students. That amendment, if applied toindependent student speech, would represent a drastic departure from existinglaw protecting student expression at school and means that school districts maynow feel — rightly or wrongly — that they are obligated to regulate or punishstudents for their independent, non-school-sponsored expression, such as in theunderground newspaper in this case or on private student Web sites or e-mail.The trial judge in the case did raise questions about the school’s ability tolimit student speech, but the constitutionality of the law has so far not beenfully tested in this context, but may be questioned if this lawsuitcontinues.