LOS ANGELES - East Bakersfield High School students will publish a series of articles about sexual orientation in the November edition of the award-winning school newspaper, The Kernal, editors announced today.
The articles will be published November 4 as a result of an ongoing lawsuit against the Kern High School District led by current editor-in-chief and East High senior Maria Krauter, former editor-in-chief and current Bakersfield College student Joel Paramo, several other students interviewed for the series, the ACLU of Southern California, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy. The series was slated to run last May before school officials demanded it be censored at the eleventh hour, citing unsubstantiated threats to the students interviewed.
"I knew this day would come," said Krauter, who wrote one of the articles and planned and edited the other four in the series as a feature editor for the paper last academic year. "We had the support of our parents, the parents of those interviewed, the entire editorial staff, our journalism advisor and even the editorial board of the Bakersfield Californian. I'm glad students at East will finally get to read these important articles, even if it's a little late."
ACLU/SC staff attorney Christine P. Sun said publishing the articles, which included both the views of people supportive of gay and lesbian rights and the views of those who have religious objections to homosexuality, is long overdue.
"The principal was wrong to censor these well-researched, balanced articles about a topic that affects teenagers today," Sun said. "Not only were the threats the principal cited last spring unsubstantiated, but the law is clear that the principal may not just throw up his hands and resort to censorship when he is concerned about student safety. The right to free speech requires that the principal protect students who want to speak out about important issues, and not cede control of the campus to school bullies."
Students originally sought to publish the articles in the second to last edition of the paper last school year, but could not after the principal demanded the students pull the articles citing vague threats to gay students. The student journalists and their sources went to court seeking an order allowing them to publish the articles in the final edition of the paper.
The court denied the request, stating that more information about the district's reasons for censoring the articles was needed. Over the summer and fall school officials failed to produce evidence of their claims that lesbian and gay students would be harmed as a result of the publication of the articles. The lawsuit also revealed the principal took no steps to inform those students' parents or the police officer assigned to the school of the alleged threats. In October, the school relented and informed The Kernal editorial board members that the articles can be printed.
Janet Rangel, who graduated from East High last June and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was interviewed for the story with her mother.
"When our principal said the articles on sexual orientation could not be published in The Kernal it made me feel like I was back in the closet again, hiding," Rangel said. "I'm glad that because we didn't back down the articles will be printed. It's important for schools to be a place where students learn and feel comfortable. "
GSA Network Alliance Executive Director Carolyn Laub, whose group was a plaintiff in the case, added: "Finally, the voices of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth at East Bakersfield High are no longer being silenced. Now, other LGBT students will know they are not alone. This should be a wake-up call for school administrators that they need to conduct anti-bullying training in schools proactively, to prevent discrimination or bullying from happening in the first place."
After the articles are printed, the students will continue to seek a court order clarifying the duties of the school with respect to protecting student free speech rights, so that future student journalists will not be similarly censored and to ensure that the school district will seek effective methods to combat bullying on campus.