CALIFORNIA– The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declinedto grant a hearing sought by the Novato Unified School District, letting stand aMay 2007 California Court of Appeals decision that a former high school studentjournalist was wrongfully disciplined by the administration over a controversialeditorial.
Andrew Smith wrote an opinion piece in 2001 for his studentpaper, The Buzz, titled, “Immigration.” Smith explained whyhe thought immigration laws were ineffective and said he is “sick” of illegal immigrants “waltzing in and abusing our country.” Thecolumn resulted in a student protest and prompted the principal andsuperintendent to write an apology letter to parents.
Then-Principal LisaSchwartz instituted prior review soon after, delaying a second column by Smithcalled “Reverse Racism.” The column eventually was published afterSmith filed suit against the district in 2002.
The Marin County SuperiorCourt ruled in March 2005 that the administration was justified in censoringSmith’s column. The California Court of Appeals reversed that decision,citing California’s Education Code section 48907, which says students inpublic schools have freedom of expression, except when it is “obscene,libelous or slanderous,” or “material which so incites students asto create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts onschool premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or thesubstantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.”
TheCalifornia Supreme Court denied the school’s appeal in September2007.
Paul Beard, Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer for Smith, told the SanFrancisco Chronicle on Tuesday that now California students “will beable to publish very controversial political opinions without fearingretribution.”
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 decision in
Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier said school officials generally maycensor items in school-sponsored outlets if they can present a reasonableeducational justification for doing so, and if they have not traditionallyallowed students to make final content decisions. But California is one of sevenstates with laws protecting student expression in public high schools.
Smith told the Student Press Law Center in 2007 that The Buzz foldedin 2002, which he blamed on the administration’s attempts at censorship. A student journalism club revived the paper last fall and published its first issue in December.
Calls to Beard, Smith, theNovato Unified School District and Dennis Walsh, attorney for the schooldistrict, were not returned by Wednesday afternoon.
CORRECTION, Feb. 28: An earlier version of this article misstated the status of Novato High School’s student paper. The SPLC regrets the error.