Calif. high school student newspaper revived after administrators cut class

CALIFORNIA — A 75-year-old high school newspaper has been given a new lease on life now that tenacious East Bakersfield High School students revived The Kernal as an after-school club.

“The students are really excited to be back,” said Celia McKinney, the paper’s volunteer adviser. “It’s a 75-year tradition that they don’t want to let die.”

The journalism class was cut this year due to lack of funding and student interest, Kern High School District spokesperson John Teves said. But a few dozen students were interested enough to keep the paper going with funding from advertising and student government.

“We’re just a group of students who had a passion for journalism and didn’t want it to die off,” said Carla Figueroa, The Kernal’s editor-in-chief.

The Kernal was founded in 1938. In 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union helped Kernal staffers and three other students sue the school for barring the publication of controversial articles regarding gay students. The suit was settled in the students’ favor.

Randy Hamm, who was the Kernal’s adviser at the time, said the suit led to a policy that made censorship a “last resort” for school officials, although it did give the principal the advantage of prior review.

“The principal took prior review firmly in hand… and the new principal has continued that practice,” Hamm said. He said he didn’t believe this practice had kept the paper from publishing controversial stories.

In July, a former school administrator wrote a letter to the editor of The Bakersfield Californian, alleging that more was going on behind the scenes of the lawsuit.

“District administrators at the highest level told principals that first, there would be no student newspapers at any future high school built in the district; and, second, that principals at existing schools were to find a way to close their papers,” he wrote.

Only a third of the district’s 18 schools have student papers, Teves said, but that mirrors a state and national trend. He said cutting the paper “had nothing to do” with the lawsuit.

“That was eight years ago,” he said. “The students who are at East High School now were in elementary school then.”

Administrators won’t allow The Kernal to have a website, Figueroa said, but the staff hopes to start a social media page in order to better connect with students. She said they plan to publish four issues this school year.

“I’m really excited about it,” Figueroa said. “It’s been a lot of work, but its it’s worth it, I believe.”

By Samantha Sunne, SPLC staff writer. Contact Sunne by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 123.