Calif. Senate passes legislation to shield advisers against retaliation

CALIFORNIA — The California State Senate passed a bill Tuesdaythat would protect journalism advisers and other teachers against retaliation byadministrators because of student speech, but because of budget issues, the billmight not be signed or vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger until as late as theend of September.

The bill, S.B.1370, authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-SanFrancisco/San Mateo), passed through the Senate 31-2 and the Assembly 72-1.

“I expect the Governor to sign this bill into law, as has consistentlysupported our efforts to make sure true freedom of the press is alive and wellon our campuses,” Yee said in a press release.

Because of ongoing budget concerns, Schwarzenegger and the Senate continue to focus on passing a statebudget, and the governor has asked that no other bills be sent to him until thebudget is passed, said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California NewspaperPress Association.

After receiving the bill, the governor will have 12 days to sign it or veto it. If the bill is not given to the governor before session ends Aug. 31, he has until Sept. 30 to address it, Ewert said.

Originally called the Journalism Teacher Protection Act, the bill was broadened to includeall teachers and shield “an employee from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against for”protecting students exercising their constitutional rights.

The legislation comes after Yee proposed Assembly Bill 2581 in 2006 to guarantee students’ right to free press and speech. Since AB 2581 passed, administrators have tried to control student press by pressuring journalism advisers and other teachers withthreats of removing them from positions, Ewert said. The need for S.B. 1370 is troubling, Yee’s communications Director Adam Keigwin said.

In 2006, Janet Ewell, the student newspaper adviser for Rancho Alamitos High School, wasremoved from her position as adviser after she permitted students to write editorials critical of school employees and facilities. Over a dozen cases like Ewell’s have been documented across the state in the past couple of years, Keigwin said. Ewert said the bill would stop actions like this in itstracks.

The Association of the California School Administrators expressed opposition to S.B. 1370 because it claims the bill is too broad and could be usedby all teachers to escape reprimand by claiming freedom of speech protections.

“ACSA has heard of numerous situations whereby a teacher has used poor judgment under the guise of student freedom of speech,” according to the Senatefloor analysis. “The school principal must be able to utilize discretion when coming in contact with these situations. Teachers are the adults that must be held accountable for their students, even in the case of a school newspaper, yearbook, or other written materials.”

If S.B. 1370 is passed, it will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2009. But the CNPA hopes school districts will implement it prior to that date, Ewert said.

While he hopes no more legislation will be needed, Yee will continue to support student speech and press issues, Keigwin said.