Calif. principal seizes student newspaper

Associated Press wire report

STOCKTON, Calif. — Student journalists at a Central Valley high school are getting a lesson in the First Amendment after administrators confiscated their newspaper over concerns about a campus safety article quoting school administrators as saying that recent lockdown drills and two reports of weapons on campus revealed poor communication.

The principal of Stockton’s Bear Creek High School, Shirley McNichols, stopped distribution of 1,700 copies of the monthly Bruin Voice newspaper last week, saying a front-page article about allegedly outdated safety policies could panic students.

Editor-in-Chief Justine Chang and adviser Kathi Duffel told The Record of Stockton that the principal was embarrassed about what the article exposed.

“I think (administrators) were embarrassed by how they are portrayed in the article,” said Chang.

McNichols denied that. She also said that the district has a policy that allows administrators to monitor the newspaper’s content and withhold it if it causes a safety issue, and administrators quoted in the story were disgruntled employees.

McNichols said safety could be improved, including fixing the school’s lockdown alarm and intercom so they function in all classrooms. Portions of the safety plan referred to in the article already had been improved, she said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that most cases of prior restraint are unconstitutional. The exception is national security. In California, reasons for preventing publication include libel, slander, obscenity or articles that might incite students.

Duffel has had a previous run-in with administrators over the newspaper. She was written up for insubordination for allowing students to publish a story about the former principal losing his master key without allowing him to review it first.

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