Bill to protect journalism teachers clears Assembly

A law that would protect high school and college journalism teachers from being reassigned, fired or otherwise retaliated against because of student speech has passed the Assembly.

This reminds me of one of my first blog posts, last June.

Anyway, here’s the release, sent out Monday:

SACRAMENTO – On a bipartisan 66-5 vote, the California State Assembly today approved legislation to protect high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech, which most often happens when a journalism advisor or professor is disciplined for content in a student newspaper. The bill, which was approved by the Senate in April on a 35-2 vote, only requires a procedural concurrence vote in the Senate before consideration by the Governor.

Senate Bill 1370 by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) follows a 2006 law also authored by Yee which prohibits censorship of student press by administrators and protects students from being disciplined for engaging in speech or press activities.

There have been a number of documented cases throughout the state of journalism advisors being dismissed or reassigned due to student speech. In fact, Senator Yee’s office has learned of cases in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Claremont, Fremont, Novato, Oxnard, Rialto, and Garden Grove.

“With SB 1370, California continues to lead the way in making sure true freedom of the press is alive and well on our campuses,” said Yee. “Allowing a school administration to censor in any way is contrary to the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as the watchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators. It is quite disheartening to hear, that after we specifically prohibited prior restraint by administrators, that some are engaging in this type of nefarious activity and even firing quality teachers because of content in the student newspaper.”

Specifically, SB 1370 would prohibit an employee from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against for acting to protect a student’s speech.

A Los Angeles School District case is one of many where a highly respected and successful newspaper advisor was removed from his position. In November 2006, the student newspaper published an editorial criticizing random searches conducted on campus. The newspaper advisor, Darryl Adams, was immediately removed after refusing to eliminate the editorial at the principal’s request.

“In a span of four months, they all but stripped me of my professional existence,” said Adams.

Another case involved Janet Ewell, a Garden Grove tenured teacher and certified journalism educator, who was removed as newspaper advisor in 2002 despite her students winning numerous journalism awards. The school’s principal admitted to student reporters that he had removed Ewell as a result of editorials that ran in the school newspaper. The editorials focused on such issues as the school bathrooms, cafeteria food and a teacher who was unavailable to help students.

Ronnie Campagna, a journalism teacher of 18 years at San Marin High School in Novato, was removed in 2003 and replaced by a new teacher with no previous journalism experience after the student paper published stories critical of the administration. For example, one story criticized the school administration for not letting students stand up in the bleachers during varsity basketball games. The school board went so far as to attempt dissolving the entire program until parents protested and even offered to fund the class themselves.

San Francisco journalism and English teacher Katharine Swan was told that she must find a different school in which to teach after her students covered a first-year principal’s attempts to effect prior restraint and influence coverage of events occurring at the school.

“Since administrators are unable by law to exercise prior restraint with regard to a student publication, they lean on advisers to do what they legally cannot,” said Jim Ewert, Legal Counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “When advisers refuse, they are punished because administrators know they will face no legal consequences. SB 1370 is necessary to close this gaping loophole in the law.”

Recently, the Newspaper Association of America Foundation released a study that found students who work on high school newspapers and yearbooks are more likely to receive better grades in high school and college as well as score higher on college entrance exams.

In addition to support from CNPA, SB 1370 is endorsed by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California School Employees Association, California State Student Association, Associated Students of the University of California (Davis), California School Employees Association, California State University Employees Union, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), State Employees Trades Council, Council of University of California Faculty Associations, Service Employees International Union, California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and California Labor Federation.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Nextset

    One more reason to terminate all student newspapers.

  • Sue


  • Debora

    I’m with Sue, why?

    It seems to me from the Blog entries I’ve read of yours that you would appreciate critical thought, accountability by students and teachers and freedom of expression by all. It would also seem to be a good idea that in a class, discussion would include the possible consequences, and legal ramifications of the published words.

    So Nextset, what’s up?

  • Cranky teacher

    Debora, you have not read enough of Nextset to understand him.

    He believes students are not capable of independent action or thought and that they are to be kept within TIGHT boundaries on behavior and thinking. School, in his vision, is where students learn to obey and work hard, are taught certain batches of material and reach specific clearly defined benchmarks.

    Most extreme is his view that any opnions held by minors are by definition irrelevent or not worth hearing, and furthermore that our encouraging of young people to think their thoughts and words are powerful leads them to destruction.

    So, his dismissal of high school journalism is perfectly understandable: Such programs invite contrary and critical thinking, student expression and “empowerment” and even individual student celebrity.

    When it comes to kids, at least, Nextset is a totalitarian with good intentions (to use a less loaded word than the one that comes to mind.) See: His comments on the tasering of student protestors, or his comments on the Tibet protests one of Katy’s student bloggers participated in.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Your appraisal of my belief is just as silly as your educational system. I suppose it’s required to think this way to continue your work in the failure factory. I can’t help you on this.

    You take a thread here and there and try to imagine the entire picture.. well, that’s blogging I suppose. My problem is that this is how you teach your students – you probably don’t realize what it is you are imparting as you do it.

    I’d love to revisit the Taser issue again because it’s illustrative of life. I don’t use tasers on students, the police do. I don’t carry a Taser. Peace Officers also kill “students” on occasion as required with the firearms they carry. Most criminals active a night are armed also and kill “students” with great enthusiasm. If you do certain things around this place nowadays you will be killed quite dead. Don’t do those things.. That goes for getting in the way of cops on duty, Tasering is the least that happens – I’ve seen people dead in a morgue from police bullets, quite justifiable shooting I might add. I’ve been to the morgue on several occasions.

    This is just so you clearly understand me. I see dead people. Got it? They died by gunfire in altercations with the police. I will see more of them. So when a class of ill mannered adolescents decides to have a jaunt like we discussed, unlike you, I have no fantasies that they aren’t going to (legally and predictably) get their dumb selves Tasered. The experience might help them avoid getting shot next time.

    Your approach is to teach indiscipline and that’s why so many of the at-risk kids get hurt. Because they had teachers with your mindset and not mine. You think I represent Totalitarianism? You don’t know what that is. You just don’t. “Freedom” is for adults, not for hormonal adolescents looking for boundries. You don’t want to teach kids – you want to buddy them and be loved. Maybe that’s your upbringing, it’s not mine. I wouldn’t be here if I was allowed to do things my way when I needed to be getting prerequisites done and learning skills. That’s why may family put our kids in Catholic Schools and not the public ones until High School. And then a tough High School.

    You are a teacher – you don’t have to deal with the wreckage of public school educated people in the courts and in the town. When you have done some work on them I’ll take seriously your point of view.

  • Nextset

    And as far as high school journalism, high school students are in no position to have control of a publication. They are incapable of understanding the law and unable to respond to damages on libel and slander actions. Beyond that, I have seen people barred from good employment because they were dumb in the operation of their Myspace page, and they were (young) adults. And that’s no longer an unusal event. The first thing done on an internship application is to do internet searches on the applicant.

    It is unwise to allow an adolescent to publish uncensored and unedited material. In no way are they in position to have the experience and judgment for that responsibility. School Papers are the publication of the school and not the students because the school owns it. If the students want to hand out their own publication they can. Then they and their parents have the liability and the need to pay the attorneys to handle the litigation. (remember, parents have civil liability for torts of minors)

    A school paper can be run safely with adult editing and oversight. If that oversight is obstructed by the CA legislature with their liberal fantasies, the school paper can’t be run in a safe manner and should be simply closed.

    I don’t have a problem with gun training for children. I was shooting at age 5. I have taught teens how to drive, behind the wheel. One of them was a fight, no aptitude for driving, I could have been killed. I took sailing lessons on Lake Merritt at 12 or earlier with a class of similar students. I know some kids fly planes as teens. I was in woodshop with very dangerous power tools at 15. I had my own MasterCard with my own credit line and bill at 16 (unusual then), my own checking account under my name only at Wells Fargo at 11 (so did other kids I knew). I have no problem with kids and dangerous instrumentalities (regardless of whether the kid thinks he/she is ready). But only under conditions that are reasonably safe.

    My imposition of controls on adolescents are hardly totalitarian except to a liberal, for whom anything goes and words are cheap.

  • John

    Yes indeed Cranky! Nextset’s views are extreme in the context of the current status quo, but not in the status quo I grew up in. Students should be “taught to obey and work hard” BY THEIR PARENTS. For whatever reasons there’s a dwindling supply of effective parenting and as a direct consequence students and schools are suffering.

    I don’t have a problem with students being directed to aim and achieve benchmarks. Heck, many of those benchmarks might even be consistent with the benchmark expectations employees have for employees.

    Of course students should be critical thinkers, after attaining the tools of thought that will give them the ability to think critically and make their feelings of empowerment more than just “feelings,” or the product of indulging adults who are ‘raising and teaching’ self indulging children to remain self indulging.

    Oops! Gotta go, there’s a special on the Hitler Channel. Speaking of, I recommend you rent/watch a little known movie called Learning Curve:


    NO Afro American high school students were harmed (or included) in the making of this movie. I’m sure you will find it uncomfortably anti status quo. I’m going to say it’s a TERRIBLE MOVIE, just because I wouldn’t want anyone to think I liked it.

  • Debora

    I have the unique opportunity to be in the position of hiring in Oakland. I have witnessed on paper and in an interview the “uncensored” words – “Hottie” on the t-shirt she was wearing in the interview – I don’t have no experience, but can learn as he is slouched in the chair, jeans exposing his underwear – and the Myspace sexual content would make the most liberal of us all blush. This is an office job.

    Each of the interviewees listed above are a graduate of the Oakland Unified School District. High School should be treated as a place of employment for all who spend their day at school. Journalistic writing is a form of Language Arts and belongs at school and available to all students.

    I believe that parents do have a responsibility – however, some parents, even doing their best parenting have not been exposed to journalistic writing that will be published. This type of writing, articles, opinions, reviews, should be practiced beginning in first grade. Now, not all first graders are interested and not all of us are interested in first grade writing, but having a teacher interested in guiding the choice of topics, how the article are written and how to defend the research done, is a educational opportunity and should be given at school.

  • Nextset

    Debora: While I agree it would be nice if we could have journalism taught in OUSD it doesn’t appear to be a reasonable use of the time and money to have a “student” newspaper when the idiot courts and legislature want to prevent the school from exercising proper editorial control.

    It would be more appropriate for the school to create an internship program of some sort to attempt to outplace the relatively few bright journalism students to print, internet and other media private firms – where they wuold receive appropriate supervision.

    Besides, the number of jobs in journalism appears to have peaked and the newspaper industry is facing layoffs and closure. The students need heavy internet training – writing and research, they can get that without a student paper.

    As far as the rotten deportment of the failure factory graduates, I hope you told them by the end of the interview that their appearance was disgraceful and would be a bar to employment with you. They should remember that before the next job interview. I really believe in “education” and you have an opportunity to educate by doing what the schools refuse to do – to correct these kids. Perhaps if they had a cultural anthropology class they’d understand the importance of how they present themselves. Looking and behaving the way you describe – we’d have no reason to believe they even wash their hands after using the restroom. They are clueless of the signals they give off as they blunder through life. Their school left them clueless (I don’t care about their family – I expect the school to educate where the family doesn’t).

  • Cranky teacher

    “Your approach is to teach indiscipline and that’s why so many of the at-risk kids get hurt. Because they had teachers with your mindset and not mine. You think I represent Totalitarianism? You don’t know what that is. You just don’t. “Freedom” is for adults, not for hormonal adolescents looking for boundries. You don’t want to teach kids – you want to buddy them and be loved.”

    You know nothing of my approach to teaching, classroom rules, boundaries I set and enforce, or anything else about me. I have not written about those things here (and won’t). You are simply placing me into a stereotype you believe is to blame for erosion of schools and society. This allows you to make straw man arguments about all these supposed liberals telling kids they can do whatever they want, and that this in turn leads to all these dead bodies.

    As for the totalitarian comment, it is of course provocative. However, I am basing it on months of reading your:

    a) Continued claims for eugenic racial theories, including the link of IQ to race.
    b) Sweeping and often damning generalizations about types of people (minors, blacks, liberals, Oakland students) which serve as rigid labels that would be quite at home in a communist or fascist system which uses such categories as the basis of reward/punishment systems to exert control (i.e., the petit bougiousie, proletariat, Jews, Gypsies, kulaks, etc.)
    c) High regard for the use of violence or the threat of violence in the shaping of positive child and adult behavior. Both Communists and Fascists — and even the French Revolution fanatics — were enamored of the use of violence as a cleansing, purifying force for change.
    d) An overall ends-justify-the-means approach to schooling. I.e., if tasering a kid unfairly now will save his life later, than taser away. Again, a hallmark of totalitarian philosophies.
    e) A disrespect for the authority of the family and individual in favor of militaristic institutions as the primary force of education. (“I don’t care about their family — I expect the school to educate where the family doesn’t.”)

  • Cranky teacher

    “It would be more appropriate for the school to create an internship program of some sort to attempt to outplace the relatively few bright journalism students to print, internet and other media private firms – where they wuold receive appropriate supervision.”

    Why do you insist on talking so arrogantly about things you know nothing about?

    1. There are MANY bright students in Oakland and every other school district in the world. Don’t you understand the bell curve that you cite so much?

    2. Running a student newspaper in no way means there is not a supervising teacher responsible for restraining irresponsible behavior where appropriate.

    3. School newspapers have always been more than just a way to train future journalists; the news media is the so-called “Fifth Estate” and is a pillar of a functioning democracy. Schools have always had small models of democratic institutions, from elected officers and newspapers, to clubs and rallies. The newspaper is a place for students to practice discussing issues in a civil and educated manner, and reading those discussions.

    4. You mention they are not worth the “time and money,” yet school newspapers are quite cheap to run and supervise. Most are self-funded through parent subcriptions and advertising. A teacher is given one period to supervise the paper.

  • Debora

    Cranky Teacher: Another advantage is that students practice writing to get the attention and readership of others, which is a different form of writing than the standard five-paragraph essay, poem, book report, etc.

    Students who are taught the journalistic writing style also have the ability to gather facts or information and sift through what is valid and should be included and that which is not. In our information age with so much material coming at a student, this is a skill necessary to be honed.

  • Katy Murphy

    I think I experienced, in high school and in college, what Debora just described.

    I remember thinking quite highly of my writing — until I started writing for student newspapers, when I learned that clarity and focus were more important than big words and fancy sentences.

    (I still remember my first big splash, titled, “There’s nothing to do in Northbrook.”)

    But there was another factor, too: When I sat down to write a piece for publication, I pictured people other than my teacher reading what I wrote. It felt like it actually mattered.

    It was one thing to get a good grade on a paper, but another to have your writing and reporting held up to the scrutiny of the public and/or your peers. Some things never change…