Anna Giles Reporting

STOCKTON (CBS13) — 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.

Bear Creek High School journalism teacher Kathi Duffel.

“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.

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Those tears turned into defiance and frustration after talking 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 rent and other expenses.

“I think a lot of people assume that she’s just the 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. They sent a statement to CBS13 that said:

“Lodi Unified School District supports the rights our students have to freedom of speech. The District has not censored nor stopped the publication of the Bruin Voice, or any article originally scheduled to be published on April 23, now scheduled for May 3. The District is legally required to ensure that publications do not violate Education Code Section 48907.  This law requires districts to prevent the publication of obscenity, defamation, and incitement.  It also prohibits the publication of content that fails to meet the professional standards of English and journalism. The District will legally intervene to ensure that any school-related activity complies with the law. We are working cooperatively with Mrs. Duffel, the teacher who oversees the Bruin Voice. After refusing to allow the District to see the article, she proposed that an independent attorney review the article to ensure compliance with the law. The District agreed on April 18. In addition, Mrs. Duffel acknowledged that the District’s concerns raised some interesting points and that the students have more work to do. Regardless of action taken by Mrs. Duffel, the District remains committed to the agreed upon process.”

Despite the district’s warnings, the newspaper staff said they will not stand down.

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“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.

Swipe below to see 5 times school newspapers broke noteworthy stories, according to Mental Floss.

Comments (30)
  1. Case law is pretty clear on this score. School newspapers, student-run newspapers, do not have the same first amendment rights as regular newspapers. Administrators can and do have the right to veto articles. This was a shocking example of poor judgment on the part of this veteran teacher. She will likely retire after this controversy. The subject was completely inappropriate, and the girl who is being exploited in this manner should get out of that industry.

  2. Sean Simpson says:

    The school’s explanation that they are not and have not censored anything, but are required to ensure the article doesn’t violate ‘Education Code Section 48907,’ seems like a legit concern from the administration. The fact that they were willing to compromise and have an independent attorney review the article is evidence, to me, that they are being reasonable.
    The newspaper is saying they “won’t back down.” Back down from what? There’s nothing thats really challenging them on the outright publication here, there are just a couple legal considerations to take into account. The student newspaper seems to be making a mountain out of a molehill by manufacturing a controversy where there is none. This is just a school doing it’s due diligence, if they stay with what they claim.
    Let’s face it, an article about a current, legal-age student who is working in porn could very easily cross some lines that the student journalist may not even know they crossed. Amateur journalists do not have the experience to know where nor how articles need extra careful word-smithing in order to delicately get around potential legal sticking points.

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