The Student Press Law Center welcomes the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision today to drop disciplinary proceedings against award-winning journalism adviser Adriana Chavira for refusing to censor her students’ work.
SPLC commends the Daniel Pearl Magnet High School student journalists’ bravery for continuing to stand by their editorial decisions and Chavira’s courage for refusing to break the law despite administrators’ pressure to do so.
“I am relieved that the suspension was finally rescinded, and I wish it would not have taken almost a whole year to apply the law correctly,” Chavira said following today’s hearing.
“This case should never have happened,” said SPLC Executive Director Hadar Harris, in reaction to the resolution of the appeal. “California has one of the strongest student free expression laws in the country. Adriana Chavira is a well-known, award-winning journalism adviser. The school is named after the late Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, who was killed while reporting in Pakistan after 9/11. The law is clear and the facts speak for themselves. We are thrilled that LAUSD came to its senses and applied the law correctly, and we are proud of the brave students at the Pearl Post for standing up for their rights and for their adviser.”
California has the oldest student free student expression law in the country: Cal. Educ. Code Section 48907. Under the law, student journalists have the right to determine what content they publish. The law also protects media advisers like Chavira from school officials’ retaliation for their students’ speech.
Controversy arose when the school’s former librarian asked last year that her name be removed from a Nov. 8, 2021, story in the Pearl Post about the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate on teachers. The story noted that the school librarian did not return to work after the mandate went into effect and that the library was closed to students.
After consulting with SPLC attorneys through our legal hotline, the student journalists decided not to take down the librarian’s name from the published article. Administrators then demanded that Chavira remove the name. She stood by her students’ editorial decision –– and upheld Section 48907, which prevents a teacher from censoring student work protected under the statute.
School officials informed Chavira this month that she would be suspended for three days without pay and have a disciplinary notice placed in her personnel file. They were, in essence, punishing her for insubordination because she refused to break the law. Chavira then appealed.
SPLC sent a strong letter on Sept. 8 to LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, co-signed by 22 organizations and individuals dedicated to protecting free speech and press rights, including a member of Daniel Pearl’s family. The letter demanded that the district rescind the disciplinary proceedings against Chavira. Following that letter and significant media coverage throughout California and across the country, the district fast-tracked the appeal hearing.
Today’s decision demonstrates that having a strong law is important. But Chavira’s experience shows that ensuring students, advisers and school administrators understand the law is just as important.
“Coming the day before Constitution Day, this case demonstrates, again, why the protection of a free press –– and student press freedom –– is so important,” Harris said. “ If this situation has taught us anything, it is that we need to ensure that where there is a law in place, students, teachers and administrators understand it and apply it correctly. And where we don’t have legal protections, it is urgent and essential to protect student press freedom to ensure student journalists can report on issues of importance in their communities without fear of arbitrary censorship.”
SPLC will continue to support student journalists and their advisers across the country in fighting for their right to a free press and ensuring that laws protecting their rights are adopted and fully applied.
Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has worked to support, promote and defend the First Amendment and freedom of expression rights of student journalists at the high school and college level, and the advisers who support them. Working at the intersection of law, journalism and education, SPLC runs the nation’s only free legal hotline for student journalists. We also provide training, educational resources and support the grassroots non-partisan New Voices movement, seeking state-based legislative support for student press freedom. The SPLC is an independent, non-profit 501c(3) organization based in Washington, D.C.