Student editorial board fights censorship at Port of LA High School

After an issue of The Anchor went to press last September, the editors-in-chief and the two advisers of The Anchor received multiple emails from Principal Scotti in response to the issue’s editorial, which encouraged the high school’s administration to provide free condoms to students. The principal also mentioned an entertainment article in the same issue regarding transgender celebrities.

In response to two parent complaints concerning the content of this issue, Principal Scotti stated that the newspaper would no longer be distributed in classrooms.

The editorial board has challenged Principal Scotti’s demand to limit distribution, citing the California Education Code 48907, which protects student journalism rights in California public schools. The code gives students the right to distribute printed materials, and was amended in 2010 to include charter schools.

When student editors reached out to Principal Scotti and Assistant Principal Felicia Ivie in a private meeting, Principal Scotti restated his claim that the distribution of the student newspaper must be limited due to its content, and maintained that limiting its distribution was not censorship.

The editorial board still disagrees, and contacted the Student Press Law Center for legal advice.

“The principal has repeatedly and unreservedly announced a connection between the content of your publication and his adverse distribution decision,” said the SPLC’s attorney advocate Adam Goldstein. “That is a textbook example of censorship, and the exact kind of decision the law is designed to prohibit.”

“Although most of the editors are seniors and will definitely be graduating this year, we want to protect the future of the paper we work so hard on,” said editor Ximena Ruiz. “We, as the staff, want to prevent any future issues from arising before we leave, like censoring the paper. The Anchor is fairly new, and because it is new, we need to settle some of the current controversies with our school.”

Following the meeting with the principal, the editorial board drafted a Publications Policy, which included a clause that would allow students to distribute printed material within classrooms during the first or last five minutes of class time.

On Nov. 4, 2015, the Publications Policy was presented to the school’s Board of Trustees. Students, including members of the editorial board, attended the public meeting to protest Principal Scotti’s change in distribution, and urge the board to adopt the proposed policy. At this meeting, Principal Scotti made multiple claims reaffirming his intentions to deny distribution rights.

The policy was referred to the board’s Policies and Procedures Committee.

On Feb. 11, students and a newspaper adviser attended the committee’s meeting, where the committee split the Publication Policy into two parts, accepting most of the student’s proposed Publications Policy but creating a second distribution policy. Ultimately, the committee left the policy of distribution to Principal Scotti, who decided to allow the newspaper to be available in classrooms with the condition that teachers and students not directly distribute the paper.

“I will absolutely state adamantly that yes, it is because of what’s in [the newspaper]. And because of what’s in there, it needs to be protected both ways,” said Principal Scotti at the Policy and Procedures Committee meeting. “This isn’t Random Lengths or The Daily Breeze, this is a public high school, and where I see the sticking points in here, from a parent’s perspective and there’s content in there that exposes [students] to something that maybe they were naive about before.”

The journalism students are continuing to work with the Student Press Law Center to connect with legal representation in the state of California. Student editors spoke at the board meeting on March 2 where the Board of Trustees approved the publication portion of the policy and did not address distribution.

If you would like to read the editorial from last September that encouraged the high school’s administration to provide free condoms to students, please visit Port of LA’s page on HS Insider.

–Ashley Anderson

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