California district shuts down the Matador student newspaper website without advance notice

(Correction, 10/22: Due to a source error, the original article incorrectly listed the website’s new address. It is unclear what the new URL will be. Clarification, 10/20: San Gabriel High School only provided funding for the Matador’s website last year. In the years before, the students raised the money themselves. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.) 

CALIFORNIA — An embattled California high school newspaper’s website has been shut down following recent arguments with the administration over censorship and the temporary removal of their adviser.

The editors-in-chief of The Matador were told by their principal in early October that they will no longer keep their own domain, and it will instead be hosted on the district’s servers. Erin Truong, one of the newspaper’s editors-in-chief, was told by their principal that the new arrangement would not include any editorial interference from the administration.

Officials from the Alhambra Unified School District or school board did not return a call for request for comment.

The editors said they were pulled out of class the day their domain expired. At the time, they had already automatically renewed their site with credits that were on their account page.

“I felt very suspicious [since] they waited until the day our domain expired to tell us,” Truong said.

Truong said other high school newspapers in the district were given notice of the change well in advance, but their paper was the last to know.

The website shutdown is the most recent in a string of quarrels between the Matador and San Gabriel High School administration. At the end of last school year, a story student reporters pursued on the dismissal of a popular speech and debate coach was stopped from being published by an administrator, though a district investigation concluded there was no intended censorship. Since then, their adviser was placed on indefinite leave when she had an argument with the principal at yearbook camp.

The adviser, Jennifer Kim, declined to comment on the latest development, citing legal concerns. She has been on administrative leave since August.

Current students and alumni are not willing to let the conflicts fade away. Since they first accused the administration of censorship, they have been attending board meetings, occasionally dressing up in outfits such as the “armor of truth” or “Transparency Man.”

In the latest meeting on Oct. 6, the board dismissed a complaint filed by the Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank LoMonte, which refers to holes in the district’s new speech code. The complaint said language used in the new code directly violated California free speech laws and called for the policy to be revised.

The policy allows for the principal to require student articles to include disclaimers that the school district does not endorse the content and requires that all student submissions meet professional standards of English and journalism.

“It is neither lawful nor as a practical matter workable to say that a 16-year-old trainee writer is forbidden from publishing work that falls short of the standards to be published in The Los Angeles Times. No one expects a student publication to be The Los Angeles Times,” LoMonte wrote. “Students are in training to become professionals, but it makes no more sense to demand professional performance as a prerequisite to publishing than it would to require that a student demonstrate NFL-caliber performance before taking the field for prep football.”

Defy Silence Under Alliance, a blog started by a mix of alumni and current students, has also popped up to report on the events surrounding the Matador. The group recently filed a Williams Act complaint against the district, alleging that the substitute replacements for their former adviser are not qualified to be teaching a journalism class or leading a newspaper.

Now, the current student journalists are trying to navigate running their newspaper without a website, uncertain when their new one will be launched — they were told it could be up to a month.

Thomas Wang, one of The Matador’s web editors, said one of his primary concerns is losing the paper’s archive of stories. Since the district contacted GoDaddy to shut down their website renewal without telling the students first, they have lost access to their WordPress site and are unsure whether their backlog of stories have been saved.

Website editor Stacey Chau said though the principal assured her they would have total editorial control, she has not been given any information on whether they will have design input, something they had more control over on their WordPress-run website.

The district will have access to the new website, student editors said. Last year, the school provided funding for the website but the use of the independent GoDaddy server allowed The Matador separate access control, Truong said.

“We don’t know how much freedom we really have with the site,” Chau said.

Contact SPLC staff writer Allison Kowalski at 202-478-1926 or by email.