SB 1370 Passes California Legislature, Heads to Gov. Schwarzenegger

August 6, 2008

As discussed previously on The Torch, in June the California State Assembly approved legislation by a 72-1 vote that would protect high school and college educators from retaliation against administrators angry about articles published by student journalists. The bill, Senate Bill 1370, flew through the Senate yesterday by a vote of 35-2 and is on its way to the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for his signature. The legislation, authored by Senator Leland Yee, specifically states:

This bill prohibits a school employee from being dismissed, suspended, disciplined, reassigned, transferred, or otherwise retaliated against for acting to protect a pupil or student engaged in conduct authorized by state law or refusing to infringe upon conduct that is protected pursuant to the United States Constitution and the California State Constitution.

The press release issued by Senator Yee’s office documents several specific cases where teachers have been punished for allowing students to publish without censorship. For example, Janet Ewell, a decorated senior journalism teacher in the Garden Grove Unified School District, was removed as the advisor of the school paper after students published editorials critical of the school administration. The school principal later admitted to student reporters that Ewell’s removal was directly related to the publishing of those editorials.

As we have mentioned before, FIRE is glad that the issue of freedom of the press is getting the attention that it deserves in California, especially considering the lengthy record of free expression violations in that state. In addition to support from Yee, the bill’s sponsor, the bill has been endorsed by an impressive list of other organizations, including "the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California School Employees Association, California State Student Association, Associated Students of the University of California (Davis), California School Employees Association, California State University Employees Union, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), State Employees Trades Council, Council of University of California Faculty Associations, Service Employees International Union, California Faculty Association, California Nurses Association, American Civil Liberties Union, and California Labor Federation."

As a matter of institutional policy, FIRE takes no position on pending legislation. However, we are aware of the problem of administrative retaliation that this bill seeks to prevent. Accordingly, we will continue to monitor the progression of the bill with interest.