Calif. passes journalism adviser protection bill

CALIFORNIA — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into lawSunday that protects high school and college teachers, in addition to all otherschool employees, from being retaliated against because of student speech.

Senate Bill 1370, introduced by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/SanMateo), was in limbo for weeks after Schwarzenegger stood firm on not signing anybills until an agreement was made with state legislators on the Californiabudget.

But an agreement on the state budget passed last week, and Schwarzeneggersigned 163 bills this weekend, while vetoing 226 bills.

The law, builds on other protective student journalism measures inCalifornia’s Education Code because of Yee’s previous bills. The newlaw, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2009, protects an employee from being”dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwiseretaliated against” for solely acting to protect a pupil’s speech,or for refusing an administrator’s order to illegally censor speech.

Yee said in a statement that he is pleased to see California continuing itstrend in freedom of the press.

“Allowing a school administration to censor in any way is contrary tothe democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as thewatchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators,” Yeesaid. “It is quite disheartening to hear, that after we specificallyprohibited prior restraint by administrators, that some are engaging in thistype of nefarious activity and even firing quality teachers because of contentin the student newspaper.”

Adam Keigwin, Yee’s communications director, said that he gets phonecalls from journalism advisers who have to choose between either violating thelaw by censoring a newspaper or facing potential retaliation fromadministrators.

“We had about a dozen cases or so prior to introducing the bill,” Keigwin said. “And then since introducing the bill, there’s been probably another dozen or so in terms of calls that I’ve gotten from college professors and high school journalism advisers who are saying ‘oh yeah, this happened to me, too.'”

Frank D. LoMonte, Student Press Law Center executive director, said he is pleased with California’s role in helping to preserve teachers’ rights.

“While this law makes the workplace safer for teachers, the real beneficiaries are California’s students, who no longer must fear that honest reporting on school events will get their favorite teacher fired,” LoMonte said in a statement released today. “Governor Schwarzenegger and the California legislature should be commended for sending a message to school officials — in California and across the nation — that teachers are not to be used as pawns to intimidate kids into avoiding legitimate topics of discussion.”

Yee, a leading First Amendment advocate among legislators in the country, has been responsible for laws in favor of open government and student journalism protection including:A.B. 775: Requires public meetings of the University of California Regents for all discussions and compensation packages.A.B. 2581: Amended the California Education Code in response to Hosty v. Carter, which granted rights to college administrators to have prior review at their student-run mediums not designated as public forums in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. A.B. 2581 extended prohibiting censorship from high school to college student journalists, making California the first state to respond to Hosty and starting a trend among some states to pass similar legislation.S.B. 190: Higher Education Governance Accountability Act, brought transparency reforms to the governing bodies of the University of California and California State University.

Keigwin said he hopes other states will follow Yee’s position when it comes to First Amendment protections.

“Often times, California leads the way on some of these more progressive policies and then you do see the rest of the country following,” Keigwin said. “I would hope there are some legislators out there in other states that are listening and cutting and pasting our law into a bill of their own.”

Yee’s legislation had strong support from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, but encountered some opposition from school and college administrators, who claimed that it would tie their hands in removing educators who fail or refuse to do their jobs.