Adviser removed at Calif. high school after challenging principal's censorship

CALIFORNIA — Administrators removed a journalism adviser fromhis position at Fallbrook High School after he defended students against twoinstances of censorship.

The Tomahawk, the student newspaper at the Fallbrook, Calif., highschool, was first censored in November when it was covering the removal offormer superintendent Tom Anthony by the Board of Trustees. Principal Rod Kingrequired the paper to remove the story, said David Evans, the adviser.

The paper was again censored in May, while it was preparing its final issueof the year. A student wrote an editorial that was critical of federal supportof abstinence-only education. In an e-mail to Evans, King said he was “not atall comfortable” with the editorial, saying it was “one-sided” andcontroversial.

“You have done such a great job with the paper this year, to end it withsuch a one sided controversial piece would not do justice to all the greataccomplishments,” King wrote.

But both instances of censorship were in violation of the CaliforniaEducation Code, which states that censorship is legal only if the content is”obscene, libelous, or slanderous” or incites danger or a substantial disruptionof the school, wrote Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press LawCenter, in a letter to Evans.

Goldstein wrote that the justifications given for censorship of theeditorial by the principal don’t meet applicable legal standards.

“Nothing in the law cares about the principal’s comfort level or permitscensorship of controversial topics,” Goldstein wrote.

Evans said he had heard that parents of two students were consideringlawsuits against the principal for censoring the sex education article. He thenspoke to the president of the board of trustees during a social function on June4, saying he thought it would be a good idea to meet with the parents and theprincipal to try to come to an agreement without a lawsuit. The next day Kinginformed Evans he would no longer be adviser.

Evans said the principal told him June 5 — 15 minutes before classeslet out for the year — that because he violated the “chain of command” hewould no longer be adviser and the journalism class would be removed from theschedule for next school year. Evans is now concerned he may also be removed asyearbook adviser.

“Even if we accept [for the sake of argument] that the ‘violation’ of the’chain of command’ was the justification for the removal of duties, it doesn’texplain the cancellation of the journalism class,” Goldstein wrote.

Legislation now pending in the state assembly would prevent schooladministrators from retaliating against teachers for defending constitutionallyprotected student speech.

The bill was passed once by the Senate and Assembly but was amended againwhen it returned to the Senate. It is now pending on the Assembly floor.

Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), who sponsored the bill, saidthat while the situation in Fallbrook is unfortunate, he is not surprised. Yeesaid he plans to work with Evans to help him use current laws that protectstudent speech to seek reinstatement.

“It may be a little more difficult, the road may be a little rougher, butwe should still be able to get to that end point that the retaliation will beset aside and his position will be restored,” Yee said.

When contacted by an SPLC reporter, Superintendent Rob French refused tomake any comments about the censorship, Evans’ removal as adviser or thecancellation of the journalism class.