Freedom of Press Protects Advisers

DSCN1252Journalism advisers  in California breathed a sigh of relief when the law, known as the   Journalism Protection Act, went into action earlier this year.

The new law, signed in by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger inOctober, took effect in January. While the law provides freedom of speech and of the press to high schools and colleges throughout the state, it also protects journalism advisers from the retaliation of school administrators if an article published fails to hold the administration or the school in good light.DSCN1258

“It was a really needed law,” Coleen Bondy, journalism adviser for Grover Cleveland high school, said. “It sounds like some excellent and incredible journalism advisers were cut down before this law came.”

When Bondy first heard of the law, she followed closely as it went through the legislative process.

“Journalism adviser, I feel are in a really uncomfortable position in a school,” Bondy said. “As a journalism adviser I feel like if we do our job really well we are probably going to be constantly in trouble with our school.”

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 15 journalism advisers were let go in the past three years for publishing content that school administrators did not favor. Advisers were also reassigned to teach another class or transferred as a result of material they produced.

Cleveland high has had its share of controversial stories within the last year alone. For their Valentine’s edition, editors and reporters for, La Sabre, decided to focus the issue on V-Day. The issue, headlined “Have a Happy Vagina Day”, contained a diagram of a vagina, and was labeled as obscene.

“A lot of teachers had strong opinions on it,” Rachel Reyes, editor-in-chief of La Sabre said. “Some teachers were ripping it up in front of classes and taking it away from students as they were walking in.”

The aim of the issue, Reyes said, was not to be obscene or tasteless, but instead to showcase V-Day’s 10-year anniversary. Including a vagina diagram was simply meant to educate students about women’s reproductive organs.

“We didn’t really think about any possible repercussions because it had never happened before,” Reyes said.

That day the paper was banned but throughout the week parents called and complained to principal Bob Marks and other school administrators. Despite the controversy that surrounded the paper Bondy considers herself lucky.

“I really believe that our school believes in free speech,” Bondy said. “The principal told me what a horrible experience it was for him, but at the end of the day I still had my job.”

Since then, La Sabre is reviewed by administrators before it goes out to print, something that all LAUSD schools and university administrators have the right to do. While the Journalism Protection Act does not allow censorship of any material by school administrators, it does allow administrators to review their school’s paper before it goes out to print.
But despite this Bondy thinks that the new law is a step in the right direction.

“This law is not only going to protect me but hopefully educate administrators about the vital role that journalism advisors play.”

To view the broadcast piece click here.

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