Legislation protects advisers
February 29, 2008 12:58 PM
State Sen. Leland Yee unveiled new legislation aimed at extending protection to high school and college journalism advisers from disciplinary acts by administrators who wish to censor student press and speech.
“Several years ago, we were told administrators were using prior restraint on student newspapers,” Yee said in a press conference at the Associated Collegiate Press national college newspaper convention on Friday at the Holiday Inn Golden Gateway in San Francisco.
“While we protected the students, the administration was going after teachers. I find it disconcerting that the administration is trying to silence our students. What [the bill] will do is prevent any administrators from retaliatory acts against advisers.”
Senate Bill 1370, also known as the Journalism Teachers Protection Act, comes two years after Yee helped enact a bill to protect students from discipline and censorship by administrators. In recent years, school administrators across the state, and in San Francisco, removed or reassigned journalism advisers in high school classrooms–sending a “chilling” message to students and teachers.
“We’re talking about students who wrote accurate, timely and newsworthy stories or editorials that embarrassed school officials,” said Jim Ewert of the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “After the publication of these articles that resulted in discussions, advisers were pulled from the classrooms. They threaten teachers to silence student critics. This type of censorship is hardly the cornerstone of the first amendment.”
SF State Asian American studies professor and San Francisco School Board member Eric Mar expressed support of the bill.
“I’m really proud to be here with courageous teachers,” Mar said. “SB 1370 is so important because of the horrifying things happening in the state. As a teacher, I believe there is no higher value than the freedom of speech.”
Katherine Swann, a longtime San Francisco high school teacher, was reassigned from her journalism duties at Mission High School after a new principal attempted to use prior restraint against the student newspaper. The paper at Mission won awards and was fair in its criticism of the school’s administration, Swann said.
“Other awards followed, but they weren’t enough to save journalism at Mission,” she said.
Swann, who began teaching at Mission High School in 1973 and was let go in the late 1990s, was reassigned to work at the well-established and award-winning newspaper at Lowell High School. After Swann’s departure, Mission changed the structure of the journalism program from a class to an after-school club.
“I expected to be at Mission until I retired. [Lowell] didn’t need me. I felt like I was making a difference [at Mission],” she said.
The Journalism Teachers Protection Act will be reviewed by the Senate in March.
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