Press Freedom Day 2019: School newspaper the 'Bruin Voice' allowed to publish story on student in adult film industry

Associated Press

The students were fighting to protect their first amendment rights of freedom of the press, while their adviser risked being disciplined

Associated Press |

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Kathi Duffel, an English teacher at Bear Creek High in the US state of California, has been allowed to publish the article about a student in the adult film industry.

A Central California school district has decided to allow a high school newspaper to publish a profile of an 18-year-old student who works in the porn industry.

The Lodi Unified School District won’t stop the story from running Friday in the Bear Creek High School paper, The Bruin Voice, the Stockton Record reported on Thursday.

The paper’s adviser, English teacher Kathi Duffel, had accused district officials of censorship after they demanded to review and approve the article before publication. In an April 11 letter, district Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer warned of possible discipline, “up to and including dismissal” if she refused.

Read about the Bruin Voice's fight to uphold freedom of the press

Duffel refused on free speech grounds, and officials in the San Joaquin Valley district, which has about 31,500 students, agree to let a lawyer review the story. Matthew Cate, who represents Duffel and the student who wrote the article, concluded that the story didn’t violate education codes.

A lawyer for the district, Paul Gant, wrote to Cate on Wednesday to say the district wouldn’t prevent publication of the story. But Gant also called Duffel insubordinate for refusing to submit the article for review, and said, “There is no question that the article could be lawfully reviewed or censored,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“Because the district has been denied an opportunity to preview the article, the district does not endorse it,” the district said in a statement. “Because we are charged with the education and care of our community’s children, we will always be diligent in our efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all students, while complying with our obligations under the law.”

The article profiles a student who sells nude videos, models for a porn agency and aspires to be a stripper, the Chronicle reported.

Why are school newspapers so important for students?

Duffel had told the paper that the article doesn’t glamorise pornography, but it “will help students think more critically about the choices they do make at this age in their lives.”

The student who was interviewed said she wanted to dispel rumours. “I’m 18, what I’m doing is legal, and I don’t see why everyone is making such a big deal out of it,” Caitlin Fink said.

Bruin Voice news editor Bailey Kirkeby wrote the article. “I am very proud of the story and how it turned out,” she told the Chronicle.

California law ensures that the First Amendment applies to student journalists. It prohibits prior restraint of school newspaper stories unless they are obscene, libellous or slanderous, or incite unlawful acts or school disruptions.

Duffel’s students “are getting a front-row seat to our government in action,” she told the Chronicle. “What better way to teach the value of the First Amendment than by teaching them firsthand not to have their voices silenced?”

Duffel has relied on the law before to block censorship attempts over her nearly three decades advising the Bruin Voice. For example, in 2013 the principal at the time confiscated 1,700 copies of the newspaper when students exposed inaccuracies in the school safety handbook.