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Reading & Literacy

High School Paper Publishes Article on Student in Porn Industry After Censorship Fight

By Sasha Jones — April 30, 2019 3 min read

By Guest Blogger Sasha Jones

UPDATED

A high school newspaper in California published a profile of an 18-year-old student who works in the porn industry Friday, following a battle with the district involving censorship.

The Bruin Voice, the student newspaper at Bear Creek High School, had previously received threats from the Lodi Unified School District administration to review the story ahead of time and dismiss the paper’s adviser if she did not comply. However, on Wednesday, the district backed down following an attorney’s review of the article.

“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 district said in a press release.

Bruin Voice news editor Bailey Kirkeby wrote the article, titled “Risky business: starting a career in the adult entertainment industry.”

“I am very proud of the story and how it turned out,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Although student journalists are protected under the First Amendment, content that is obscene, libelous, slanderous, incites unlawful or dangerous acts, or may disrupt the school day can be censored. California passed what’s known as New Voices legislation in 1977, which provides students with additional protections against administrative censorship.

Adviser Kathi Duffel originally refused to agree to any prior review, citing the students’ rights to free speech. She told the Associated Press April 26 that the article, which was published Friday in the Bruin Voice, “will help students think more critically about the choices they do make at this age in their lives.”

But, according to statements by the school district, the district and Duffel later agreed on an independent review of the article by a third-party lawyer before publication. The district complained, however, that the lawyer chosen is “serving only as Mrs. Duffel’s and the student’s attorney and is not independent.”

“The district is disappointed that the attorney identified by Mrs. Duffel will not act independently, however the district remains committed to considering all information that has a bearing on this issue,” according to the Lodi district’s April 29 press release.

The student who is profiled in the story said that she supports publication of the article to dispel rumors.

“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 told the AP.

This is not the district’s first attempt to censor the newspaper. According to the publication’s “About” page, the Bruin Voice’s motto, “The Voice shall not be silenced” was coined after early attempts of censorship following the paper’s establishment in 1991.

Students additionally protested a social media policy imposed by the Lodi Unified School District in 2013; they received help from the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. The policy, which was designed to reduce cyberbulling, prohibited social media posts that were deemed “inappropriate” by school administrators, including profane or sexual language. The policy also prohibited the “liking”, retweeting, or “favoriting” of inappropriate posts by others, and “subtweeting"--where a user writes about a person without mentioning their name.

According to the AP, in 2013 the principal at the time also confiscated 1,700 copies of the newspaper when students exposed inaccuracies in the school safety handbook.

According to an Education Week Research Center survey in December of nearly 500 journalism and media educators in 45 states, 44 percent of teachers report a rise in journalism class enrollment in the past two years, with many linking the increase to the national political climate, including attacks on “fake news.”

But the teachers did not see a similar rise in censorship challenges. Although some student newsrooms have experienced criticism from their peers, 75 percent of educators said that censorship and other challenges related to student press freedom have not changed in the past two years.

Photo courtesy of Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.