California school newspaper confiscated

California’ strong free press law for high school journalists was put to test in Stockton as a principal seized 1,700 copies of the The Bruin Voice citing concerns that an article on campus safety policies would incite panic. At the end of the day, the principal allowed the newspaper to be distributed.   (Stockton Record, February 7, 2013, by Keith Reid)

The Associated Press reported that the principal was concerned that the article quoted “school administrators as saying that recent lockdown drills and two reports of weapons on campus revealed poor communication.” (Miami Herald, February 7, 2013)

The principal may have been worried that the article showed her in a bad light. She subsequently exercised the right to prior review which she said was allowed under district policy in case of a safety issue. State law places control of school newspaper content in the hands of student editors and sets limits on student free press only for  slander, libel, obscenity or articles that incite students to violence, to defy school rules or to substantial disruption of  the orderly operation of the school. By resorting to censorship, the principal provided a harmful model for students. She had many other choices open to her.  For one, at any time, if she feared imminent threat to safety, she could have gone onto the public address system to correct any perceived fallacies in the article and to reassure students.  Rather than show students that force can stifle speech, it would have been far more beneficial educationally and for the First Amendment to counter speech with speech. (First Amendment Coalition, February 1, 2013, by Donal Brown)

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