Free Speech Problems at Fallbrook High School

FALLBROOK: ACLU files suit over high school newspaper row

Group alleges freedom of speech, press violations
in two held articles, adviser's removal
North County Times
November 11, 2008

...Dan Shinoff, an attorney who represents the school district, said Tuesday the
ACLU is incorrect in saying Fallbrook High School's administrators are trying to
censor student journalists.

"I think they embrace free speech, and they embrace the discipline that's
necessary to be a good journalist, as well," said Shinoff.

The student-produced Tomahawk newspaper is still around as an extracurricular
program and the newspaper's former adviser, Dave Evans, still teaches at the
high school, but the lawsuit alleges violations based on what civil liberties union
legal director David Blair-Loy described as censorship.

Blair-Loy said Tuesday that California law guarantees student newspapers the
same freedoms as professionally run publications.

"What we want is for Fallbrook High School to respect students' rights to freedom
of speech and freedom of the press by reinstating the newspaper and the
newspaper class as a credit class, and to allow the reinstated student newspaper
to publish the two pieces that were previously censored," he said.

The suit alleges that King first told Evans to hold a news article about former
Superintendent Tom Anthony's forced resignation in November 2007. The article
was held despite Evans' "strong objections," according to the ACLU.

The principal later ordered Evans to hold an editorial critical of the district's
abstinence-only sex education program.

After Evans complained to school board President Bill O'Connor about King's
alleged censorship, King then told Evans that the newspaper class would be
transitioned into an after-school program and that he would be removed as the
Tomahawk's adviser.

King couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday (the school was closed in
observance of Veterans Day) but Shinoff said he plans to prove that the district
had legitimate reasons for holding the two articles and turning The Tomahawk into
an extracurricular program.

"The school district is certainly not taking the position that the district has absolute
control over free speech as it relates to students," Shinoff said. "The issues here
are more complex than that."

He said the news article about Anthony's forced buyout was held because of
inaccuracies and the newspaper class was closed because of budgetary

Regarding the sex education editorial, Shinoff said King was hearing conflicting
reports of who had written it.

The civil liberties union said Tomahawk editors Margaret Dupes and Daniela
Rogulj wrote the editorial, and Blair-Loy said it was "ridiculous" to suggest that the
piece could have been written by someone else.

Dupes and Rogulj are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed this week, along with
Evans, Chantal Ariosta, who wrote the first piece that was held, and two other
students listed as minors.

Shinoff objected to the idea that the school district removed Evans and canceled
the newspaper class because administrators disliked or disagreed with certain
articles that had been submitted for publication.

"I don't believe that's the administration's attitude at all," he said. "From my
perspective, they want students to be able to express themselves, they want
students to be engaged, and they certainly want students to develop the fine
writing skills that are necessary to become a fine journalist."

But Blair-Loy said the timing of the decision to close the class says otherwise.

King told Evans the class was being canceled one day after Evans went to the
school board president to "blow the whistle," said Blair-Loy.

"The district may claim it was a budgetary issue, but the coincidence is just
overwhelming ---- I don't believe in coincidences that strong," he said.

No hearings have yet been scheduled in the case.

A copy of the complaint is available at the American Civil Liberties Union's Web
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