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California ed codes protect student expression, adviser teaching

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by Casey Nichols
Hazelwood stories: I live and teach in a state protected from the Hazelwood decision by a carefully crafted California Education Code. And yet, periodically it rears its ugly head.

25 years of Hazelwood art

In the past 19 years since I’ve advised at Rocklin High School, in both yearbook and newspaper, a parent will on occasion take exception to something we’ve published. They will do an Internet research, and then cite Hazelwood as a reason “I” need to edit the students. I reply with a link to California Ed Code 48907 as a starter, and proceed to explain how this superseded the Hazelwood decision and protects student expression across the board.

Each time my school has had a change of principals I spend time educating them on state law (and our board policy). Fortunately, three of the four have understood the value in freedom of expression. We also develop an understanding of what education code means by an adviser’s role in assuring the highest possible quality in reporting and mechanics.

I have often thought of setting those high expectations often as we approach potentially controversial areas. While in graduate school I actually met the student’s and lawyer who defended the case. I remember how much it offended their sense of right and wrong to have their work censored. It reminds me that as a teacher I must expect excellence and thorough reporting; as an adviser I must my students, and have their back when they’ve done their job and still get questioned.

I am further proud that California has gone on to protect adviser’s jobs with SB 1370, which guarantees they cannot be removed for protecting student’s rights of expression.  There is little more dear to all of us than our First Amendment Rights, and as it is so often, high school journalism is the perfect laboratory to learn, practice, and master effective use of those rights.

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