STOCKTON (CBS13) — High school journalism teacher Kathi Duffel fought for a student’s right to publish a controversial story. She now says she could still lose her job.
Duffel and student journalist Bailey Kirkeby won a free-speech battle that caught the attention of readers worldwide, but Duffel says her future is uncertain.
Duffel has been at the helm of Bear Creek High School’s newspaper, The Bruin Voice, for decades. When the Lodi Unified School District discovered the paper was going to publish a story on April 23 about Caitlin Fink, an 18-year-old student working in the adult entertainment industry, the district ordered Duffel to stop, saying the story could violate the district’s obscenity bylaws.
The district then ordered Duffel to provide them with an advance copy of the story, writing, in part: “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.”
Duffel refused to provide the district with the article, saying the district was violating the students’ free speech rights. This resulted in a threat from the district to shut the paper down and fire Duffel. The school district and Duffel eventually agreed to have an independent attorney review the article to ensure its content is legal.
On Wednesday, district spokesperson Chelsea Vongehr confirmed the article was going to print, which it did on Friday.
Despite her success, Duffel fears her program could be defunded and the newspaper shuttered.
“This district has shown in the past it can be very retaliatory. My attorney sent them a letter yesterday threatening them this is a liability if they choose to go that route,” Duffel said.
CBS13 asked the district about possible punishment and was told they could not comment on personnel matters.
“I am going to stand tall until they kick me out of here,” Duffel said.