U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

California journalism adviser threatened with suspension, rescinded after appeal

Incident Details

September 1, 2022

The suspension of a journalism adviser at a high school in Lake Balboa, California, was rescinded on Sept. 16, 2022 following a lengthy conflict with school administrators.

Daniel Pearl Magnet High School’s journalism adviser, Adriana Chavira, was given an unpaid three-day suspension on Sept. 1, after Chavira repeatedly denied school administrators' requests that she remove a librarian’s name from a fall 2021 student story about a vaccine mandate protest, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Chavira, ​a former reporter and longtime journalism adviser at the high school, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she left the name in the story because the student journalists didn’t want it removed.

“It’s a student-run publication,” Chavira said. “I read the stories before they’re posted, but the students are the ones who ultimately write the headlines, post them and make it live. I don’t do that.”

The original report about people protesting the school district’s vaccination mandate was published in November 2021. The article named a librarian who had refused to be vaccinated and left the school because of the mandate, causing the school library to close.

Chavira said she received an email from the librarian in mid-November asking that her name be taken out of the story. Chavira forwarded the email to the Pearl Post’s student journalists, who consulted with the Student Press Law Center and decided not to remove the name given its newsworthiness.

Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the SPLC, said that California has the oldest law protecting students’ First Amendment rights in the country. The law, Education Code 48907, also protects journalism advisers from retaliation.

“It’s such an easy legal case,” Hiestand said. “And I really am befuddled by why the district has taken the stance that it has.”

In a statement emailed to the Tracker before the suspension was rescinded, a Los Angeles Unified School District spokesperson said they were unable to address ongoing personnel matters. “We will continue to support our students and their journalistic endeavors at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School while also respecting the concerns of our school community.”

Chavira said she received her first email from school administrators threatening disciplinary action if the name wasn’t taken out of the story in January 2022. In a months-long back-and-forth, she said, the school would repeatedly give her deadlines to remove the name. She repeatedly ignored them, arguing that it was up to the students’ discretion.

The suspension, which Chavira said would have been handed down in June 2022 if the school’s principal hadn't fallen ill at the end of the school year, came three weeks into the fall 2022 semester. According to Chavira, the school completely ignored the law protecting the student publication and framed the suspension as an issue of insubordination.

Backed by the California Teachers Association, journalists and press freedom advocates around the country, Chavira’s suspension was rescinded following an appeal hearing on Sept. 16, the Times reported. Supporters also include the father of Daniel Pearl, the slain reporter after whom the school is named. In an LA Press Club statement, Judea Pearl, who is also the president of his son’s namesake foundation, praised the journalism adviser for inspiring her students.

In her tweet celebrating the successful appeal, Chavira thanked the many supporters.

“The district should never have attempted to censor my students and discipline me,” Chavira wrote. “All along, I knew we were in the right and I'm proud of my students for holding their ground, too.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].