STOCKTON, Kalifornia (PNN) - April 23, 2019 - Students and administrators at a San Joaquin County school are caught up in a tense battle over freedom of speech.
The student newspaper at Bear Creek High School in Stockton wants to publish a story about an 18-year-old student who works in adult entertainment. The district is laying on the brakes, claiming the article could be obscene. Currently, the article in The Bruin Voice is set to be published and distributed on May 3.
“When you are on the side of free speech you will never lose,” said Kathi Duffel, the journalism teacher who runs The Bruin Voice.
But Duffel could lose her job. The first letter from the district came earlier this month said she could be dismissed if a copy of the story isn’t provided before publication.
“I opened it up and read it in front of her and then I cried,” Duffel said.
Those tears turned into defiance and frustration after she spoke with attorneys.
“We believe this student has every right to tell her story legally and that we have every legal right to tell it,” Duffel said.
Bailey Kirkeby is writing the story about the student who performs adult entertainment. She says the student does it to help pay her rent and other expenses.
“I think a lot of people assume that she’s just a porn star but the story is actually giving her a personality,” Kirkeby said.
Lodi Unified School District officials said they can legally intervene with the publication in order to ensure that the story is not obscene, and that it meets the professional standards of English and journalism.
Despite the district’s warnings, the newspaper staff said they will not stand down.
“Their intimidation tactics, which we’ve all seen at this point, should not scare her away from defending herself,” said Gabriella Backus, the editor in chief of The Bruin Voice.
Duffel said the story contains nothing obscene. She said it gives a voice to someone who has been the target of criticism and rumors.
“Our students are the watchdog of our administration, and I want our administration to know we are watching and they will be held accountable,” Duffel said.
The school district and the head of the journalism program have agreed to have an independent attorney review the article to ensure its content is legal.