New Publications Policy Affirms Student Rights


Dalton Flores

The 2018-2019 Express staff wearing shirts that quote California Education Code 48907.

Grace Aitken, News Editor

Capistrano Unified School District’s School Board adopted a new publications policy in December, replacing a 20 year old policy with a new one, aligned with California Education Code 48907 which protects student publications First Amendment rights in public schools.

The change came nine months to the day after controversy over content published in The Express last March discussing teen sexuality caused the paper’s teacher-adviser, Bill Kaiser, to be placed on paid administrative leave for five days. Meanwhile, the staff assembled, writing open letters, speaking at a CUSD district board meeting,  and garnering community support.

“Throughout this entire ordeal the student journalists at The Express demonstrated remarkable cool-headedness and tenacity,” said James Ewert, General Counsel for the California News Publishers Association.

After closer examination, the old CUSD publications policy was found to be outdated and not in line with CA Ed. Code, according to background information in the July 25 CUSD board agendas. Over the summer at least one principal and two advisers met to modify it, according to sources inside CUSD.

Throughout this entire ordeal the student journalists at The Express demonstrated remarkable cool-headedness and tenacity

— James Ewert

A draft policy was written with proposed changes and a first reading delivered at the July 25 board meeting, but the proposed changes did not align with CA Education Code 48907 either.

The original policy stated  “official school publications shall be free to provide thoughtful, relevant commentaries on all topics within the bounds of good taste,” while the new draft changed “bounds of good taste” to “appropriate in a public school setting.”

Additionally, the proposal bore a striking resemblance to an even older Arcadia Unified policy, also not aligned with specific limitations on student expression contained in the state law.

Lucy Law and Riley Goodfellow, The Express Co Editors-in-Chief, discussed the proposed changes with the class highlighting sections they felt didn’t align with CA Ed. Code. The newspaper staff agreed that “appropriate for a public school setting” was just as vague and misleading as the original, and not in alignment with section 48907.

Riley decided to speak to Trustees at the September 12 board meeting,  proposing that the policy could be fixed simply by following section 48907. The board then tabled a vote on the policy pending further review.

A short time later, all newspaper advisers, as well as student editors, were invited to participate in an input session at the district office on October 17, 2018.

Co Editor-in-Chief, Lucy Law attended the session with Kaiser and other advisers and their student editors where Deputy Superintendent of Secondary Education led an input session to solicit input on a third revision of the policy.

The session included a visit by CUSD’s attorney Tony Demarco who emphasized key points of 48907, such as the prohibition of prior review by administrators, and relevant case law in California (Novato v. Smith).

Norberto Santana, a lecturer at Chapman university and non-partisan, journalist offered encouragement to students to keep public officials accountable and asking lots of questions.

Chief Communications officer Ryan Burris spoke about realizing the potential of student publications in CUSD and Dave Stewart led a World Cafe style input activity centered on three topics: anonymous sources, community education, and administrators and advisers as partners.

Students and advisers contributed ideas to poster paper and rotated among stations.

“We received excellent feedback during [the] School Board meeting and again during the workshop. Specifically, we were able to make some changes to language that was outdated and/or vague,” said Assistant Superintendent Joshua Hill.

He added that the experience, “strengthened [his] desire to support these programs and to educate our parents on the value of student journalism.”

A new draft was ready by the December 12 board meeting that aligned with CA Ed. Code 48907. The first paragraph was changed to “official school publications shall be free to provide thoughtful, relevant commentaries on all topics and shall be limited only as allowed by Education Code 48907, 48950, and other applicable state and federal laws.”

It also included definitions of certain types of journalistic articles, and affirmed the concept of no prior review by stating, “The advisors and/or principal shall exercise no prior restraint of prepared material except as provided in Education Code 48907.”

The new policy sets an example for other school districts to take steps to protect their student publications, and promotes the “New Voices” movement in the country.