Rights Groups Urge Sacramento School Superintendent to Reinstate High School Paper Advisor

The teacher was placed on administrative leave after the student paper published a student’s comment about Hitler

Contact: fac@firstamendmentcoalition.org

San Rafael, Calif. – The First Amendment Coalition, ACLU of Northern California, Student Press Law Center, and California Scholastic Journalism Initiative have sent a letter to Lisa Allen, Superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, protesting the district’s treatment of Samantha Archuleta, faculty advisor for the student newspaper at C.K. McClatchy High School. 

Archuleta was placed on leave after the student paper, The Prospector, published the comment that “Hitler’s got some good ideas,” which a student said in a government class and the paper ran in a compilation of comments made by students and overheard on campus. Archuleta spoke to the press and defended the editors’ right to publish the student’s comment under California’s Education Code, which guarantees that students retain editorial control over student newspapers.

“The press exists to report news of public concern. Instead of holding an open and thoughtful discussion of campus climate, the district retaliated against a teacher who stood up for press freedom,” said David Loy, Legal Director at the First Amendment Coalition.

“Without condoning the content of the quote, we are troubled by the district’s response to it,” said Chessie Thacher, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “The First Amendment and California law prohibit such censorship and retaliatory treatment.” 

“California lawmakers passed a law specifically to prevent administrators from hanging student student media advisers out to dry like this,” said Mike Hiestand, Senior Legal Counsel for Student Press Law Center.

“Removing the adviser was clearly an effort to control what the students publish. Under California law, student speech that only makes people uncomfortable is not sufficient disruption to justify censorship. To punish a faculty advisor for defending the rights of student editors sends a clear message that their editorial freedom is in danger,” said Steve O’Donoghue, Director of the California Scholastic Journalism Initiative.

The letter notes that by retaliating against Archuleta, the school district violated both state law and the First Amendment. The letter states: “Unless there are material facts beyond those reported in the press, it appears that the district has unlawfully retaliated against Ms. Archuleta for defending the freedom of the student press, as well as for exercising her own free speech rights.”

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