California high school shuts down school newspaper; cause debated

CALIFORNIA– A Belmont, Calif., high school newspaper was shutdown after only one issue containing a student’s satirical column.

Officials for the Sequoia Union High School District say The ScotsExpress was shut down because the adviser to the paper quit. Thesuperintendent said the paper would be re-established as a journalism class inJanuary 2009 instead of a school club.

But Editor in Chief Alex Zhang told the Mercury News that a viceprincipal at Carlmont High School said the paper was shut down because of thecontent of the paper.

In a Nov. 10 letter requested by Zhang from the vice principal describingthe school’s reasoning for its shutdown or the paper, the administratorstated “an article that went into publication in the first issue on page 7was inappropriate and should not have gone to print,” the MercuryNews reported today.

It was the opinion column written by Jack Dooley called, “Jack Dooley– a beautiful man,” that began the controversy. In it, Dooley wrote,”I am sexy. And I don’t mean that like my physical attributes can bedescribed as sexy, that’s a given. What I mean is, I embody sexy. I amthat word. That word is me. I am sexy.”

Dooley then described himself shirtless and rubbing baby oil on himselfbefore re-declaring his “sexiness.”

The news of the paper’s shutdown caught the attention of Californiastate Sen. Leland Yee, who was admittedly upset when the principal ordered theshutdown.

“I think that in this particular case in Carlmont, we see time andtime again where people use other reasons to cover up their intent,” Yeesaid. “In this particular case, we have prime official evidence that theprincipal shut down the newspaper because she didn’t like thecontent.”

Yee said that if Principal Andrea Jenoff wanted to use the argument of nosufficient supervision being in place for the student journalists, then sheshould have used that argument instead of saying she did not like thecontent.

“So, maybe this is an inherent flaw in human-kind that just becauseyou are mightier than the person below you, you believe you can limitpeople’s First Amendment [rights],” Yee said. “I hope thatthese examples, when brought to light, will be a learning lesson for everyoneand that we will then shortly not see some of these cases happeningagain.”

Jenoff’s office secretary referred all comments to school districtmedia spokeswoman, Bettylu Smith.

Smith admitted the vice principal had a conversation with Zhang relating tothe paper being shut down for its content, but would not go into details.

“Basically, conversations between students and school officials arenot something we comment about in the press,” Smith said. “So, Iwouldn’t want to go into detail, but I can tell you that the viceprincipal did speak with the students earlier this week and did speak about thelarger picture and what has been unfolding for months now, at the end of lastschool year and since the start of last year.”

Smith said a former adviser quit at the beginning of last school year andwas replaced by a newer teacher. The newer adviser quit the position afterrealizing her workload was too large to handle, Smith said.

Pat Gemma, the district superintendent, said censorship did not occur inthis situation.

“The reason the paper was shut down was because the adviserquit,” Gemma said. “That’s the real reason, and I just thinkit got exasperated by the letter the [vice principal] wrote.”

Gemma said Jenoff is working with faculty at Carlmont High School to find anew adviser to the paper for the second semester. He said the paper would mostlikely not be a club anymore, but rather a class with a fulltime adviser.

“It was not censorship,” Gemma said. “I think that it wasmore about trying to discipline a kid on the part of the viceprincipal.”

Gemma said once the adviser quit on Friday, Jenoff’s message to thevice principal was to call in the newspaper editor for a meeting to inform himthat the paper would be shutdown because there was no longer any supervision.

The vice principal told Zhang the reason the paper was being shut down wasthat the administration didn’t believe the article was appropriate, Gemmasaid. Zhang then asked in writing why the paper was being shut down, and thevice principal complied.

Gemma said he would be speaking with Yee today in a conference callscheduled for this afternoon to clear up any misunderstanding.

In the meantime, Yee has asked for the help of the American Civil LibertiesUnion, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the California FirstAmendment Coalition about possible legal action to protect the studentjournalists.

Yee also said he would have to look into writing a bill because of thesituation at Carlmont High School. He wants to make sure that before anyone getsan administrative credential in California there is a sure understanding of theFirst Amendment among principals and other administrators.

“There is aprovision in the Education Code that requires there is a discussion about lawsrelating to school matters,” Yee said. “I will have to look moreclosely on whether or not we will need to expand the course requirements so thatthere is a singular course that all administrators have to take dealing withstudents’ First Amendment [rights] and how administrators cannot infringeon that.”

Yee has been a leader in the country on First Amendment rights for studentsand their advisers, getting laws enacted to protect them. One piece oflegislation Yee got passed is the Leonard Law, which grants protections ofstudents’ First Amendment rights in public and private secondary schoolsand that they not be disciplined for expressing those rights.

“When the school principal, superintendent and school boards cannotprotect students’ First Amendment [rights], it’s a sad day inCalifornia,” Yee said.