Calif. state legislature passes bill including charter schools in student free expression law

CALIFORNIA — The bill that would extend student freeexpression rights to California charter school students awaits thegovernor’s signature after passing the State Assembly on Monday.

Senate Bill 438, sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/SanMateo, passed the Assembly on a vote of 51-19. The bill passed the State Senatein January.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has not given any indication whether he willsign or veto the bill, but he has 12 days from when it reaches his desk to makea decision, said Matt Connelly, the governor’s deputy presssecretary.

Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for Yee, said he expected the governor to signthe bill, as he has supported Yee’s other laws protecting students’and school employees’ speech and press rights.

Yee filed the bill in response to an incident at Orange County High Schoolof the Arts, where administrators stopped the publication of the charterschool’s student newspaper, Evolution, for a week in September 2009and briefly instituted prior review. Administrators had expressed concerns overthe accuracy and relevance of two articles.

That sparked debate over whether charter schools, such as OCHSA, are exemptfrom the California student free expression law. The law is a section of theCalifornia Education Code that says students have freedom of speech and press,except anything that is obscene, libelous or slanderous. California state lawexempts charter schools from the Education Code with limited exceptions.

SB 438, which would prevent censorship by charter school administrators,will clear up any ambiguity in whether the student free expression law appliesto charter schools, Keigwin said.

“When we wrote those laws, there was no question that these appliedto charter schools,” he said. “They applied to public and privateschool students. These are rights granted to students, these are not issues ofcurriculum. And that’s the exemption that charter schools have is oncurriculum not on individual rights.”

In June, the school dismissed its journalism adviser, Konnie Krislock, whodefended the students during their confrontation with the administration. Yeehas called for the Orange County Board of Education to consider the situationwhen reviewing OCHSA’s charter, but school officials have denied thedismissal was any form of retaliation.