CALIFORNIA — As an update to the California student freeexpression law clears its most recent hurdle, the California school at thecenter of the debate over whether the state’s law applies to charterschools has dismissed its yearbook adviser.
Konnie Krislock, yearbook adviser at Orange County High School of the Artssince 2005, returned home from vacation on June 20 to find a letter from OCHSAChief Operating Officer Steven Wagner telling her that she was no longer neededat the school.
Krislock also advised the student newspaper, Evolution, which had arun in with Principal Sue Vaughn in September after Vaughn halted itspublication and briefly instituted prior review. Vaughn had expressed concernsover the accuracy and relevance of two articles but Krislock defended thenewspaper.
That incident sparked debate over whether charter schools, such as OCHSA,are exempt from the California student free expression law, a section of the California EducationCode that says students have freedom of speech and press, except anything thatis obscene, libelous or slanderous. California state law exempts charter schoolsfrom the Education Code with limited exceptions.
Senate Bill 438, sponsored by state Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/SanMateo, would make it clear that charter schools are included. The bill, whichwas approved unanimously by the state Senate, cleared the AssemblyAppropriations Committee today and will go before the full Assembly soon, saidAdam Keigwin, chief of staff for Yee.
Keigwin said Yee has called for the Orange County Board of Education toreview the situation and consider revoking the school’s charter.
“It’s pretty egregious,” Keigwin said. “We’repretty shocked that they would attempt to exercise prior restraint, which is aviolation of the law. But then to go a step further now and what appears to beretaliation of the adviser and violate the law again, it isshocking.”
In a statement released June 30, Wagner said OCHSA does not comment on thedetails of employees, but the school has always followed applicable state andfederal laws.
“The school has never, and will never, practice retaliation,”
the statement said. “We base all staffing decisions on what best meets theneeds of our students and instructional program.”
Krislock said she would not try to fight the decision.
“I would never fight for my job because in fighting for my job, itwould hurt my students,” she said. “They would get involved whetherthey’ve graduated or are still at the school. Somehow they would getsucked in and it would work against them and their continued education. And Iwould never do that.”
Krislock started teaching after she retired from the yearbook industry andsaid she will continue to mentor new journalism advisers and organize summerworkshops for advisers and students.
“I am intimately involved in journalism education at all levels andhave been since 1967,” she said.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, saidthat the apparent retaliatory firing of an adviser demonstrates the need ofCalifornia’s student free expression law.
“Schools should be on notice that they can’t use advisers as apawn to punish students for what they publish,” he said. “Thesestudents were doing solid, topical journalism that obviously hit a little tooclose to home for the administration. They owe the public a full explanation ifthey claim this wasn’t a retaliatory decision.”
Krislock said her situation is a “cautionary tale” for newjournalism advisers.
“Journalism teachers all the time stick their neck out forstudents,” she said. “These aren’t our fights, they’rethe students’ fights and we’re the backbone people who stand behindthem and say, ‘These are the kids’ rights.’ We stand with themand for them. But when all is said and done, we are the casualties.”