U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

School district demands prior review, threatens job of adviser over profile in student publication

Incident Details

April 11, 2019

Administrators with the Lodi Unified School District in California demanded a student newspaper adviser submit an article for review prior to publication, under threat of discipline and dismissal.

The latest edition of Bear Creek High School’s student newspaper, the Bruin Voice, is set to include a profile of an 18-year-old student who is active in the porn industry.

“This young woman has quite a story to tell,” the paper’s adviser, Kathi Duffel, told The Washington Post. “She has every right to tell her story, and we have every right to report it.” Duffel said the administrators do not seem to understand that First Amendment rights must be respected.

Word about the profile spread around the school, and Bear Creek High School Principal Hillary Harrell delivered a letter by Lodi Unified School District Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer to Duffel on April 11, 2019.

“You are hereby directed to refrain from publishing the article prior to the District’s review and approval,” Nichols-Washer wrote. “Should you fail to provide a copy of the article as directed, you may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.”

As longtime adviser of the Bruin Voice, Duffel has won awards for her leadership — including in previous fights over censorship with Bear Creek High School.

Lilly Lim, a managing editor, sports editor, and photography editor at The Bruin Voice, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that newspapers containing the student profile will be distributed on May 3.

“As an editorial staff, we unanimously decided to continue with writing the story and submit it into publication,” Lim, a junior, said. “Soon after we notified the district of our decision, the request turned into a mandate whereby we were demanded to send a review. Since then, everything has been a back-and-forth battle.”

In a statement released by Lodi Unified School District on May 1, the district stated it will not continue to seek to prevent the article’s publication

“The District has determined that it will rely on the promises Mrs. Duffel’s personal attorney has made on her behalf regarding the content of the article and on that basis will not prevent its publication. However, the District does not agree with all aspects of the legal opinion provided by the attorney and is disappointed that an independent review was not provided as agreed to by the District and Mrs. Duffel. Moreover, because the District has been denied an opportunity to preview the article, the District does not endorse it. Because we are charged with the education and care of our community’s children, we will always be diligent in our efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all students, while complying with our obligations under the law.”

The Washington Post reported that Duffel emphasized that in her decades as a student newspaper adviser, she has “never buckled and provided the administration with a copy of a story in advance.”

Lim said Duffel has had a significant impact on her life during her tenure at Bear Creek High School. “Ms. Duffel is, in my opinion, the most renowned and influential teacher on Bear Creek's campus,” she told the Tracker.

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