LOS ANGELES - Five students and their parents filed an emergency lawsuit today in Superior Court in Kern County seeking publication in the next two weeks of a series of articles about sexual orientation that was censored by school officials.
Student editors, their sources and their parents said they were shocked at the high school administration's decision to silence them and stop publication of five articles from varying perspectives about gender identity, sexual orientation and students' personal stories. The East Bakersfield High School students are asking that the articles be published in the final edition of the paper, which is slated for print at the end of the month.
"I am really surprised and disappointed by our principal's decision to censor us," said Joel Paramo, a senior and editor-in-chief of The Kernal. "I wish we didn't need to file a lawsuit against the school to publish these stories. We chose to focus on sexual orientation in the paper so that the issues could be talked about in the open, not stuffed back into the closet."
The Kernal editors and the students interviewed for the articles first learned they would not be allowed to publish that portion of the newspaper April 29. The East High paper has been selected for several top awards from the local press club and has been allowed to print articles about sexuality in the past. Additionally, the student editors went to great lengths to ensure their sources and even their sources' parents knew about the articles.
"The East High students took an important step in promoting tolerance and understanding. They picked up where the school did not venture to go," said Christine Sun, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California. "These students are taking a very courageous step and we take the safety of all students very seriously."
Janet Rangel, a senior at East High, was interviewed for the story with her mother, both are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Rangel said she was shocked to learn the stories would not be published.
"When our principal said the articles on sexual orientation could not be published in The Kernal it made me feel like I'm back where I was - in the closet again, hiding," Rangel said. "I don't want that. It's not ok. I want to be out. I'm out for a reason. I want people to learn from me and not treat me differently just because I'm gay. I went two steps ahead when I came out and now the school is pushing me back. And, now maybe other students who were thinking about coming out won't."
The Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which supports 38 school clubs in central California including GSA clubs at West Bakersfield High, Bakersfield High, South Bakersfield High, Liberty High and Kern Valley High, is also named as a plaintiff in the case.
"The school should provide a safe campus for all students, and protect them from harassment and discrimination, not force them into silence," said Carolyn Laub, the group's executive director. "If the principal has direct evidence that there are safety concerns at school, then his first priorities should not be to curtail free speech rights of students but to take appropriate steps to identify and discipline those students who are making threats and to make clear to the school community that harassment will not be tolerated."