Introduction of student free speech bill follows implementation of Calif. school's limiting publication policy

CALIFORNIA — The high school that inspired a new Senate billensuring student free press rights for charter schools is now facing a stricterpublication policy, leaving student journalists in a “legal limbo,” the paper’s adviser said.

SB 438, which if enacted will prevent attempted censorship by charterschool administrators, passed the Senate’s judiciary committee in aunanimous 5-0 vote today, according to the Orange County Register.

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo),amends California Education Code Section 48907 — the state’s studentfree expression code — to read “pupils of the public schools,including charter schools, shall have the right to exercise freedom of speechand of the press …”

The legislation serves to tighten ambiguities that administrators at OrangeCounty High School of the Arts relied upon to defend a weeklong delay to printthe student newspaper, the Evolution, according to the Orange CountyRegister.

The Evolution, advised by Konnie Krislock,was postponedbecause of administrative reaction to two articles — one about theschool’s theme of the year and one that was about the school’scontract with a Christian food vendor.

The school’s president and executive director, Dr. Ralph Opacic, toldthe Orange County Register this bill would not affect theEvolution, as it outlaws only prior restraint, not prior review. Opacicdid not return calls by press time.

Opacic said the administrators did nothing that the amended law would makeillegal.

“We did not restrain or censor anything,” he told the OrangeCounty Register. “Education Code Section 48907 does not preclude priorreview, which is what we did in the incident.”

But Yee’s Chief of Staff, Adam Keigwin, disagreed.

“They looked at it and didn’t like it and stopped publication,” he said inthe Orange County Register. “It was the act of stopping the publication,not the review, that violated the law. Prior restraint can be 20 minutes or 10years. If there’s a delay in publication because you need to review it, that’sdelaying the speech.”

This delay worries Krislock, who said she was given an updated version ofthe school’s publication policy the day before winter break.

In it are three items that “directly oppose” the student freeexpression bill, according to Krislock. They include banning advertisementsinappropriate for minors and a school environment, providing a copy of thepublication to administrators at least three days prior to printing, andappointing the school as publisher of all school publications.

Krislock now finds herself in a “legal limbo right now,”between the current Section 48907 and “the possible penalty of myadministrators saying I was insubordinate.”

Krislock and her students are currently “acting like [the newpublication policy] doesn’t exist” and hope the Senate bill passesbefore the end of the month, when the Evolution‘s next issue isscheduled to print.