Mike McMahon AUSD
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As students become young adults, the boundaries of behavior and acceptance of past practices get challenged. The range of challenges are as silly as wearing makeup and black market for foods to questions of journalistic freedom of high school papers, portofolio requirements for graduation, student's right to assembly for anti-war protests, anti-war display, dress codes, limiting displaying the American flag in your back pocket, promoting drug use and its Supreme Court decision, background checks for senior proms, counter protest to a "Day of Silence", drug sniffing dogs, selling drugs and random drug testing. Restrictive dress codes can lead to a lawsuit.

Tolerance and student safety was the justification for this school district's requirement that teacher display posters for gay students. Citing safety concerns, administrators pulled student newspaper account of gay teens but ultimately settled a lawsuit that allowed the publishing of the articles. Closing arguements were held in a suit that seeks changes to district policy that would prohibit administrators from revealing a student's sexual orientation or selectively enforcing discipline on that basis. The culture battleground over the sexual orientation is being waged a state and local level.

In 2007, a California high school students won a case of free speech even though his newspaper article was politically incorrect.

Even grades in the classroom are subject to review as student's F is turned into a passing grade, despite protests from the teacher's union that eventually overturned by a judge. In an effort to expedite food lines and improved security, fingerprinting system was piloted at a high school. However, once parents found out they objected and the program was scraped.

With the emergence of MySpace, boundaries will be strecthed. In one case, a lawsuit emerged after photos from a Halloween party led to suspension of females while males were not suspended. In other case, a teacher is in trouble for content on his lawsuitMySpace webpage. In Southern California, high schools are dealing with secret viedtaping of teachers showing up on YouTube. Blogs are also proving troublesome to administrators. While cell phones are "old technology" questions about examining contents of confiscated cell phones raise privacy concerns.

This school district that it had to permit the distribution of flyers from a religious organization.

High School Journalist Faces Firing

Co-editor of a Fullerton campus paper profiled three gay students who decided to come out. Officials say she needed their parents' OK

By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 27,2005

When high school journalist Ann Long sent a recent edition of her school's newspaper to the printer, she hoped her profile of three gay students would generate some discussion in the hallways.

But she didn't expect to be punished for writing the article.

According to Long and her mother, officials at Troy High School in Fullerton told the senior that by Thursday she must resign or face being fired from her shared post as editor in chief of the Oracle.

Assistant Principal Joseph D'Amelia, who Long said delivered the ultimatum, declined to comment, deferring questions to Patricia Howell, deputy superintendent for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

Howell, who wouldn't discuss Long by name, said district and school officials did not object to the story's content. She said Long, 18, was being punished for violating the ethical standards of the journalism class and a state education code that prohibits asking students about their sexuality without parental permission.

"We're not saying there is anything morally wrong with the article," she said. "Freedom of speech is not at issue. Confidentiality and privacy rights are the issue."

It is a position that has left Long defiant and legal experts contending that the state law applies to faculty but not students.

"I don't think I've done anything that merits me stepping down," said Long, who vowed not to surrender her position. "Perhaps I should have called the parents to interview them for the story, but I don't feel like I should have been obligated to get their permission to write it. These students chose to talk to me."

At issue is a Dec. 17 article that chronicled the decisions of three students — two 18-year-olds and a 15-year-old — to reveal their homosexuality and bisexuality to family and friends. All three spoke to Long knowing their names would be used.

According to Long, her journalism teacher, Georgette Cerrutti, worked closely with her on drafts of the article for more than a month, at one point discussing with her the impact it might have on the students' families.

Long said Cerrutti never told her she needed to get the parents' approval.

On Monday, Long said, she was summoned to D'Amelia's office, where he and Cerrutti admonished her for not seeking the parents' permission.

"He told me I either had to resign and make an example of myself for failing to do my job," Long said of D'Amelia, "or that I would be removed."

In meetings Tuesday with Long's parents, D'Amelia and Troy Principal Chuck Maruca reaffirmed the school's stance, Long and her mother said.

Maruca and Cerrutti did not return calls seeking comment.

Howell said journalism students are taught to be cautious when writing stories that address other students' private lives. She said Long had violated the section of the California education code that requires written parental permission before asking students questions about their or their parents' "personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion," as the code states.

"Anytime a school policy or the education code is violated, there obviously has to be some consequences," Howell said.

Howell declined to comment on whether Cerrutti had told Long of that requirement or whether the teacher had asked to see the parents' written permission.

Experts on the rights of student journalists said the district was wrong to apply that part of the education code to a student.

"The school has no right to punish this student," said lawyer Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va. "A student has the right to talk about their private life, and a student journalist has the right to report on it. Ultimately, there are some things that are not within a school's right to control."

Doug Mirell, a 1st Amendment lawyer in Los Angeles, said that because minors legally could not waive their right to privacy in discussing matters such as sexual orientation, journalists must get a parent's permission. Mirell said it would be up to a parent, and not a school, to complain about the privacy breach.

The parents of the 15-year-old whom Long interviewed could not be reached for comment.

Goodman and Michael Hersher, a state Department of Education lawyer, said they had never heard of a school trying to apply that section of the education code to a student journalist. They cited another section of the code that places the responsibility on faculty advisors "to maintain professional standards of English and journalism" in school newspapers.

Long's mother, Daisy, said she was planning to take up the matter with district officials.


Court upholds student speech rights

Ruling favors teen suspended for sign: 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus'

By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, March 13, 2006

A high school principal violated a student's constitutional rights by suspending him for 10 days after the boy held up a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus'' at a televised parade near campus, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The principal said the teenager's words -- which the boy later called a meaningless phrase meant only to attract the cameras at the parade in Juneau, Alaska -- were a pro-marijuana message that clashed with school district policy. Regardless, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said Friday, the student had a right to express himself as long as he didn't disrupt the school or its educational mission.

"A school cannot censor or punish students' speech merely because the students advocate a position contrary to government policy,'' Judge Andrew Kleinfeld said in the 3-0 ruling.

He said the U.S. Supreme Court established that principle in 1969 when it ruled that a 15-year-old Iowa girl had the right to wear a black armband in class to protest the Vietnam War. Later rulings have upheld administrators' authority to censor school newspapers or punish students for lewd or disruptive remarks without undermining their basic right of free speech, Kleinfeld said.

The student's lawyer, Douglas Mertz, said the ruling applied beyond schools to any government official who tries to "punish citizens for making expressions of free speech with which the official disagrees.''

David Crosby, lawyer for the principal and the Juneau school board, declined to comment, saying he hadn't read the ruling.

The case arose in January 2002, when a torch relay for the Winter Olympics was passing by the Juneau-Douglas High School campus and students were let out of class to watch it.

Joseph Frederick, an 18-year-old senior, stood on the sidewalk and unfurled his banner as TV camera crews approached. Principal Deborah Morse crossed the street, grabbed and crumpled the banner, and told Frederick he was suspended for promoting illegal drug use.

After appealing unsuccessfully to the school board, Frederick sued, seeking removal of the suspension from his records, a declaration that his rights had been violated and damages. A federal judge ruled against him, but the appeals court overruled that decision.

Frederick's appeal drew support from the Student Press Law Center, the Village Voice newspaper and the First Amendment Project in Oakland. Sonja West, a lawyer for those organizations, said their chief concern was the federal judge's conclusion that the banner was school-sponsored expression, which would allow the school to control its content, like an official school newspaper.

The appeals court's disagreement with that conclusion "reaffirms the idea that for a school to simply allow students to express themselves during school hours does not mean the school is endorsing the message,'' West said.

Mertz said Frederick, now a student at the University of Idaho, would seek to end the case with an order prohibiting the school board from punishing students for nondisruptive speech.


High court upholds student's suspension for 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' banner

By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, June 25, 2007

A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave schools new authority to restrict students' speech today, saying pupils can be punished for statements that an administrator reasonably interprets as promoting illegal drug use.

The 5-3 ruling is likely to have little effect in California, however, because state law contains strong protections for free speech on campus.

In upholding the 10-day suspension of an Alaska high school senior for raising a banner that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus'' at a school-sanctioned event outside campus, the court majority insisted it was not abandoning free-speech principles for students that the court established in 1969. In that case, the justices upheld students' rights to wear black armbands as a protest against the Vietnam War and said schools must allow free expression unless it disrupts education.

"Our cases make clear that students do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate,' " Chief Justice John Roberts said in today's ruling, quoting from the 1969 decision.

The difference in the Alaska case, he said, was that the school principal had reasonably interpreted the student's banner, though "cryptic,'' as promoting the use of bongs, or marijuana pipes.

"Schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use,'' Roberts said.

Dissenting justices said the ruling continued the court's retreat from the free-speech principles of the 1969 ruling. In two rulings in the 1980s, the court allowed schools to punish students' sexually suggestive speech and to censor student newspapers.

"The court's ham-handed, categorical approach is deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high school students, about the wisdom of the war on drugs,'' Justice John Paul Stevens wrote.

While arguing that the court shouldn't have accepted the principal's "strained reading'' of the banner, Stevens said the ruling would also allow school administrators to punish a student's message that seriously challenged drug laws. That, he said, would be contrary to the spirit of the 1969 case.

Roberts was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Alito and Kennedy wrote separately to say they would not endorse discipline for political dissent. Thomas, in a separate opinion, said freedom of speech does not apply to public schools.

Stevens' dissent was joined by Justices David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The ninth justice, Stephen Breyer, said the court should have sidestepped the constitutional issue and ruled only that the principal violated no clearly established rights and could not be sued for damages.

The student, Joseph Frederick, unfurled a 14-foot banner in June 2002 while a torch relay for the Winter Olympics was passing by the Juneau-Douglas High School and students were being let out of class to watch it.

The principal, Deborah Morse, crossed the street and demanded that Frederick and his friends take the banner down. When Frederick refused, Morse grabbed and crumpled the banner.

Frederick said the banner contained a nonsense message intended only to get on television. But Morse suspended him for 10 days for promoting drug use contrary to school policy.

Frederick, now 24, has pressed a suit for damages and removal of the suspension from his record. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated his suit in March 2006, saying schools can't censor or punish speech merely because it contradicts school policy.

The effect of today's ruling will be minimized in California by a 1983 state law that entitles public school students to freedom of speech and of the press unless their expression is obscene, libelous or incites students so as to create a "clear and present danger'' of lawbreaking or disorder on campus.

That law gives students greater protection for freedom of expression than the Constitution's First Amendment, which was the basis of the Supreme Court ruling. A state appeals court in San Francisco relied on the California law last month in ruling against officials of Novato High School who confiscated a student newspaper in 2001 because of an anti-immigration editorial.

The Supreme Court ruling is Morse vs. Frederick, 06-278. It is available at www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/06-278.pdf.


Court Lets Schools Ban Inflammatory T-Shirts

A federal appeals panel rules that an anti-gay slogan sported by a San Diego-area high school student interfered with others' right to learn

By Henry Weinstein, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2006

Schools in the Western United States can forbid a high school student to wear a T-shirt with a slogan that denigrates gay and lesbian students, a sharply divided federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Thursday.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that a T-shirt that proclaimed "Be ashamed, our school embraced what God has condemned" on the front and "Homosexuality is shameful" on the back was "injurious to gay and lesbian students and interfered with their right to learn." Wearing such a T-shirt can be barred on a public high school campus without violating the 1st Amendment, the court said.

In numerous instances, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Americans must tolerate offensive speech, including permitting marches by Nazis through a community with a substantial Jewish population. However, the majority ruled in this instance that some limitations were permissible in a public secondary school setting.

The court concluded that San Diego-area high school student Tyler Harper's donning of the T-shirt "collides with the rights of other students in the most fundamental way," wrote 9th Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt.

"Public school students who may be injured by verbal assaults on the basis of a core identifying characteristic such as race, religion, or sexual orientation have a right to be free from such attacks while on school campuses," Reinhardt said. "Being secure involves not only the freedom from physical assaults but from psychological attacks that cause young people to question their self-worth and their rightful place in society."

Judge Alex Kozinski issued a strong dissent. "While I find this a difficult and troubling case," the Poway Unified School District has "offered no lawful justification for banning Harper's T-shirt."

There was no evidence that gay students were harmed by derogatory messages of the type conveyed on Harper's T-shirt, Kozinski said.

Moreover, Kozinski, an appointee of former President Reagan, said there was no indication that a discussion that Harper had with other students about the T-shirt "turned violent or disrupted school activities."

In fact, Kozinski said, "while words were exchanged, the students managed the situation well and without intervention from the school authorities. No doubt, everyone learned an important civics lesson about dealing with others who hold sharply divergent views."

Thursday's ruling comes amid a growing campaign across the country to force public schools, state universities and private companies to annul policies protecting gays and lesbians from harassment. Plaintiffs in several lawsuits are seeking to knock out tolerance programs on the grounds that they violate their religious beliefs, which condemn homosexuality.

The sharply clashing views of Reinhardt and Kozinski, who usually agree on free speech cases, reflects that the case poses "an enormously difficult issue — the tension between schools wanting to create a more tolerant learning environment and the important value of protecting the free speech of students," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law professor at Duke University in North Carolina. He said that in recent years appellate courts had overwhelmingly sided with school officials who had restricted the speech of high school students.

But UCLA constitutional law professor Eugene Volokh said he found the majority opinion "very troubling…. This is very much contrary to basic principles that the 1st Amendment is viewpoint neutral. It protects hostile viewpoints as well as tolerant ones," Volokh said. He predicted that the issue would reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 9th Circuit decision stemmed from an incident in April 2004, when Harper, then a sophomore at Poway High School, wore the T-shirt to protest a Day of Silence at the campus intended, in the words of a school official, to "teach tolerance of others, particularly those of a different sexual orientation."

A teacher at the school told Harper that he believed the shirt was inflammatory, violated the school's dress code and "created a negative and hostile working environment for others." When Harper refused to remove the shirt and asked to speak to a school administrator, the teacher gave him a dress-code violation card to take to the front office.

After meeting with Harper, school Principal Scott Fisher said Harper could not wear the shirt on campus but declined to suspend him as Harper requested. Rather, Fisher required Harper to stay in the school's front office the remainder of day. He was not disciplined in any other way.

About six weeks later, Harper, represented by two Christian-oriented legal organizations, sued the school district, contending that both his right to free speech and freedom of religion had been violated. Harper asserted that wearing the T-shirt was "motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs" regarding homosexuality and that the school "punished" him for expressing them. He also said the school had "attempted to change" his religious views.

U.S. District Judge John Houston in San Diego ruled that Harper was not entitled to a preliminary injunction barring the district from enforcing its dress code. The 9th Circuit majority upheld Houston and rejected all of Harper's arguments. The panel has jurisdiction over federal appeals in California and eight other Western states.

At this stage, the 9th Circuit was reviewing Houston's ruling on the preliminary injunction. He is still considering Harper's larger constitutional challenge. However, Thursday's ruling will shape the rest of the case in a profound way.

Both Reinhardt, an appointee of former President Carter, and Judge Sidney R. Thomas, a Clinton appointee who joined the majority opinion, are strong supporters of the 1st Amendment. Their opinion emphasized that it was limited to high schools and elementary schools, and that the T-shirt would be permissible on a college campus.

The majority cautioned that "it is essential that students have the opportunity to engage in full and open political expression" and that "limitations on student speech must be narrow…. Accordingly, we limit our holding to instances of derogatory and injurious remarks directed at students' minority status such as race, religion and sexual orientation."

The ruling came just a few days before Poway High is scheduled to have its next Day of Silence, which will be followed by a Day of Truth. Harper's photograph appears on the Day of Truth website, which says the day was "established to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective."

The website encourages students to wear Day of Truth T-shirts and to hand out cards (not during class time) saying, among other things, that "Silence isn't freedom. It's a constraint. Truth tolerates open discussion, because the truth emerges when healthy discourse is allowed."

Harper is now a senior at Poway High and will be heading off to college in the fall.

Both his lawyer, Robert Tyler, and an attorney for the school district, Jack M. Sleeth, said Harper was an excellent student and had no disciplinary record.

Sleeth said the case clearly had broad ramifications. "This is not just about Poway; it is about the rights of various people, including gay students in schools everywhere and students with religious opinions," he said.

Tyler, general counsel of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said he was disappointed with the majority ruling and had not decided whether to appeal.

Even in the midst of his blistering dissent, Kozinski acknowledged that he had sympathy for the position of Poway officials "that students in school are a captive audience and should not be forced to endure speech that they find offensive and demeaning."

"There is surely something to the notion that a Jewish student might not be able to devote his full attention to school activities if the fellow in the seat next to him is wearing a T-shirt with the message 'Hitler Had the Right Idea' in front and 'Let's Finish the Job!' on the back," Kozinski said.

"This T-shirt may well interfere with the educational experience even if the two students never come to blows or even have words about it."

Nonetheless, Kozinski chided the majority for concluding that it was permissible to suppress points of view while extolling the virtues of tolerance. "One man's civic responsibility," he wrote, "is another man's thought control."

The case is Harper v. Poway Unified School District, 04-57037.


Poway schools win T-shirt case

Federal judge turns down student claims

By Onell R. Soto, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2007

A San Diego federal judge ruled yesterday in favor of Poway school officials who pulled a student from class for wearing a T-shirt he says paraphrased the Bible teaching that “homosexuality is shameful.”

U.S. District Judge John A. Houston ruled that the case became moot when Tyler Chase Harper graduated from Poway High School last year, but agreed to consider the issues as they affected his sister, Kelsie Harper, still a student.

He then rejected all her claims.

“We are definitely going to appeal,” said Kevin Theriot, lawyer for the Harpers. “The court just misapplied the law and doesn't understand what free speech is all about.”

The case has drawn national attention from religious conservative groups because it is seen as a sign of attacks on freedom of speech and religion, said Theriot, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund. The defense fund is a legal group that supports Christians' civil rights.

Houston relied on a 2006 appeals court decision in the same case to find that the school's actions did not infringe on students' rights of free speech, free exercise of religion, nor were they hostile to a particular religious viewpoint.

He noted that the appellate court decision found the T-shirt slogan collided “with the rights of other students in the most fundamental way.”

Two judges on the appeals court said schools have a responsibility to stop harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

A third judge vehemently disagreed.

That 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision – which centered on Poway High's dress code – is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justices are scheduled to decide whether they will consider the case in three weeks.

Jack Sleeth, a lawyer for the Poway Unified School District, said yesterday's ruling on the other aspects of the case makes the dress-code decision moot, and the Supreme Court will eventually be asked to rule on the case as a whole.

Sleeth said the issue is not freedom of speech, but rather keeping students free from attacks.

“We can stop that in the school,” he said. “We should stop that in the school.”

Theriot criticized school policy aimed at banning “hate behavior” targeting people based on “gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or mental or physical challenges.”

“That is just incredibly broad,” he said, calling the policy a general ban on negative speech.

“I can't criticize a Christian for being narrow-minded; that's negative speech,” he said. “I can't criticize a fundamentalist Muslim for being violent; that's negative speech. . . . A Jewish student couldn't criticize a Muslim student for being anti-Semitic.”

In earlier court filings, Tyler Chase Harper said his Christian religion compelled him to warn others about the dangers of homosexuality.

On April 21, 2004, some students at Poway High held a “Day of Silence” to draw attention to harassment of gay and lesbian students.

Harper put masking tape on a T-shirt and wrote “I Will Not Accept What God Has Condemned” on the front and “Homosexuality Is Shameful, Romans 1:27” on the back.

The sophomore wore the shirt again the next day, changing the wording on the front to “Be Ashamed, Our School Embraced What God Condemned.” A teacher said the shirt was in violation of the school's dress code and asked him to take it off. When Harper refused, he was sent to the office, where he spent the rest of the day.

School officials said they found the language offensive and were worried that it could lead to violence, because of skirmishes during the “Day of Silence” the year before.

In response to the controversy over the T-shirt and the “Day of Silence,” some Christian students at Poway High have held what they call the “Day of Truth.”

Harper is now a college student.


High court backs school dress code in T-shirt case

By Greg Moran, Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2007

POWAY – The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to suspend a dress code at Poway High School that is at the center of a continuing legal fight over free speech and religious rights.

Tyler Chase Harper, a Poway High School student, sued the Poway Unified School District in 2004, saying his rights to freedom of speech and religion were violated when he was pulled out of class for wearing an anti-gay T-shirt. Harper wore the shirt during the school's “Day of Silence,” which is meant to promote tolerance of gays and lesbians. Harper, who says he is a Christian, contended his religion compelled him to speak out.

He put masking tape on a T-shirt and wrote “I Will Not Accept What God Has Condemned” on the front, and “Homosexuality Is Shameful, Romans 1:27” on the back.

He at first sought an injunction preventing the district from enforcing a policy aimed at eliminating “hate behavior” that offended students in racial, gender, sexual preference or other minority groups.

Both a San Diego federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled against Harper's bid for an injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed those earlier rulings yesterday, in an 8-1 ruling. But the closely-watched case – which legal experts said could again reach the high court – remains very much alive.

The ruling yesterday, which dealt only with the injunction part of the case, was not unexpected.

In January, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Houston ruled in favor of Poway on the the broader and more substantive issues in the case. Houston found the school's actions didn't infringe on students' rights of free speech and free exercise of religion, nor did he find them hostile to a particular religious viewpoint.

It is Harper's appeal of that ruling that is expected to be the vehicle for settling the constitutional battle over religious freedom and free speech, said Jack Sleeth, the school district's lawyer.

Harper's attorney, Kevin Theriot, said yesterday's Supreme Court decision was important because it also deemed moot an earlier appeals court ruling that seemed to greatly expand school district's power to ban speech that demeans students based on their status as minorities.

He said the high court has wiped away that ruling, which he called “one of the worst opinions on student speech in years.”


Student claims he was suspended for wearing makeup

The Associated Press, April 14, 2005

A ninth-grade student has accused officials at a Southern California high school of discrimination for suspending him for wearing lipstick and eye makeup. James Herndon, 16, said the five-day suspension imposed Monday by administrators at San Bernardino's Pacific High School was unfair because females are allowed to wear cosmetics on campus.

"If I can't wear makeup," he said, "then the girls or the staff can't wear makeup either."

Herndon says his black lipstick and red eye makeup express the Wiccan religious beliefs he shares with his mother, a priestess in the neo-pagan faith. The suspension violates his constitutional right to free expression, he contends.

Linda Hill, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino City Unified School District, declined to comment on the case, citing student confidentiality laws.

She said, however, that students shouldn't wear excessive makeup or clothing that could conceal their identity or be distracting to other students, a prohibition applied to male and female students alike.

Herndon, who is repeating his second year at the school, has worn makeup since he enrolled, according to his mother, Valerie Wallace.

Despite the suspension, Herndon plans to wear the makeup when he returns to school next week.

"My son shouldn't change the way he is," Wallace said.

Alameda Unified School District Board Policy for Student Dress Code

Alameda Unified School District Administrative Regulation for Student Dress Code


Black Market When Candy Sales are Banned

According to a story in the Austin American-Statesman, administrators at Austin High School banned candy from campus vending machines last year. The idea was that the fat students would immediately turn to eating substitutes (snacks, not teachers). The school supplied tuna, granola bars and baked chips.

Intead, the students created a black market.

Enterprising teenagers began appearing at school "armed with gym bags full of M&Ms, Skittles, Snickers and Twix," selling their sugary wares at a jacked-up price of $1.50. "I heard kids were making $200 a week just selling candy," said Austin High junior Hayden Starkey.

The market was so successful that school officials returned some candy to the vending machines. "It's all about supply and demand," said Austin High junior Scott Roudebush. "We've got some entrepreneurs around here."


Antioch student rally cleared amid talk of legal action

By Rowena Coetsee, Contra Costa Times, July 14, 2005

ANTIOCH - A Deer Valley High student club prevailed this week when the school district, under threat of a lawsuit, agreed to allow the club to hold a political rally.

In a meeting with the American Civil Liberties Union and half a dozen club members, Antioch Unified School District officials on Tuesday agreed to allow Students for Peace and Justice to stage an anti-war rally on campus this fall.

The district indicated that it was not interested in spending money to pursue the matter in court, said ACLU attorney Julia Harumi Mass, who represented the club's two founders.

Patrick Edelbacher and Amir-Ali Sarkeshik admitted they were surprised by how quickly the district backed down when confronted with the prospect of legal action.

But they were also satisfied with this victory for free speech.

"It was 100 percent in our favor," said Edelbacher, 18, the club's vice president. "It was exactly what we had been asking for the whole time."

Neither Deer Valley High School Principal Jo Ella Allen, nor Superintendent Dennis Goettsch, nor school board president Claire Smith was available for comment.

Edelbacher and Sarkeshik, 17, formed Students for Peace and Justice last fall. They were hoping its broad-based mission would make it harder for school administrators to block their protests on the grounds that issues being addressed were beyond the club's scope. They also wanted to pave the way for other student groups.

Trouble reared its head, however, when the club asked then-interim principal Allen for permission to organize a campus peace rally in February.

She twice denied the request, saying anti-war statements might not only be inaccurate but derogatory, offending other students and creating a volatile atmosphere.

Although Allen relented after conferring with Goettsch, she told the club that it could not use a public address system at the gathering.

The day before the scheduled protest, however, Edelbacher said, Allen called him and Sarkeshik out of class and ordered them to spend the next two days confined to a classroom in an on-campus suspension. She took the action after a military recruiter alleged the students had harassed him.

Allen also changed her mind and again banned the rally, said Edelbacher, who instead took part in an after-school demonstration across from the Deer Valley High campus.

The club also contacted the ACLU, which informed Allen she was violating the students' rights to free speech under the U.S. and state constitutions as well as California's Education Code.

On June 20, the organization sent the Antioch school district a letter spelling out the terms it had to meet to avoid a lawsuit:

  • Come September, students must be allowed to hold on-campus rallies during all three lunch periods as well as afforded the use of a sound system for speeches and recorded music.
  • The speeches do not require prior approval from school administrators.
  • The district must expunge the suspensions from Edelbacher's and Sarkeshik's records.

District officials also voluntarily agreed either to rescind or revise a district policy requiring students to obtain permission before distributing literature on campus.


Paradise school trustees give nod to random drug testing

By Chris Gullick, Chico Enterprise, July 29, 2005

Students at Paradise High School who participate in any extracurricular activities will be subject to random drug tests this academic year, thanks to a new policy approved by the board of trustees for Paradise Unified School District. The board debated the details of the pilot policy at a special meeting Thursday, but finally passed it unanimously.

Certain points of the policy caused consternation and contention among board members, and several amendments were made before a consensus was reached.

Trustee Donna Nichols insisted the policy should not be punitive, but said, "The whole purpose is health and safety."

She expressed concern that students could opt out of an assistance program on a first offense and that the policy wasn't entirely equitable for students who tested positive for marijuana.

"Do we want to get these kids help or do we want to be punitive?" she asked.

"It can be punitive," replied Trustee Robert DiPietro.

Board President Gary Manwill added, "You guys are trying to protect kids who are making poor choices."

All board members agreed some form of drug-testing program needed to be implemented, but struggled with the consequences of a positive test.

Nichols also said she was worried about the safety of letting students who may be using drugs participate in sports practice.

Paradise High Principal Mike Lerch told the board he thought the idea was to keep kids who tested positive active and in a six-week assistance program, "under a microscope Š and in our grasp."

The policy allows students after a first offense to participate in activities after a clear drug test and if they attend a six-week prevention program. With second and third offenses, the consequences become more severe.

The board intends it to be a one-year pilot program to help combat the admitted drug problem among Paradise students. That was evidenced by the 75 Paradise High students who were suspended for drug use during the 2004-05 school year.

Although the district has not contracted with a specific laboratory yet, Superintendent Steve Jennings said Quest Diagnostics supplied information about drug testing options. The oral fluid collection, which the board approved, tests for six possible drugs - amphetamines, opiates, phencyclidine, methamphetamines, benzoylecgonine and marijuana metabolites.

The cost to the district will include a $500 contract fee and about $28 per test, but the board had yet to decide what percent of the student pool will be tested. Most test costs would be paid by the district.

The board had planned to address the issue at its July 19 meeting, but tabled it instead because legal counsel for the district had not had a chance to review the written policy.

Originally, the policy was written to implement a pilot program testing only the students who were involved in sports at the school. It was rewritten, however, to include students in all extracurricular activities. Some parents had said the tests would unfairly single out athletes, while others felt that widening the pool would benefit more students.


5 teachers balk at posters for gay students

Signs mandated in San Leandro to ensure safety on campuses

By Simone Sebastian, San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 2006

Five teachers at San Leandro High School have refused to comply with a school district order to display a rainbow-flag poster in their classrooms that reads, "This is a safe place to be who you are," because they say homosexuality violates their religious beliefs, Principal Amy Furtado said.

The high school's Gay-Straight Alliance designed the poster, which includes pink triangles and other symbols of gay pride. In December the school board approved a policy requiring all district teachers to hang the posters in their classrooms.

District officials said the poster is an effort to comply with state laws requiring schools to ensure students' safety and curb discrimination and harassment. They say that too often teachers do not reprimand students who use derogatory slurs or refer to homosexuality in a negative way.

"This is not about religion, sex or a belief system,'' said district Superintendent Christine Lim, who initiated the poster policy. "This is about educators making sure our schools are safe for our children, regardless of their sexual orientation."

Teachers who refused to display the posters, which were distributed Monday, could not be reached for comment.

The San Leandro Unified School District has been embroiled in controversy over homosexuality in the past.

In 1997, a parents group at the high school demanded that a gay teacher be fired after she came out to her class. In 2002, high school English teacher Karl Debro settled a lawsuit with the district for $1 million after he was disciplined for giving a lecture on racism and homophobia. A judge declared unconstitutional a district policy banning "controversial issues" from the classroom without a principal's approval. The posters, along with faculty training about racism and homophobia, were required in the 2002 settlement of a lawsuit.

Art teacher Tom Laughlin, who is gay and who oversaw the poster's design by students in the Gay-Straight Alliance, said he was surprised by the level of intolerance for homosexuality that he perceived when he started teaching at the high school five years ago. He said he recognized that it was critical when a student called him a "fag."

"There was a real need to do this," he said. "A lot of students didn't know about gay people in general."

Efforts to change the district's culture with a no-tolerance approach to teasing and harassment of gay students and employees began in 2003 with the hiring of Lim. In addition to the poster policy, gay students have toured the district's schools speaking to teachers about the harassment they've encountered.

For the past two years, teachers have been required to attend annual three-hour sessions addressing the problems faced by gay and lesbian students in school and how to deal with students' homophobic comments.

This year's session was held Monday, during which the posters were distributed to district teachers.

San Leandro High computer science teacher Rick Styner put two of the posters up in his classroom, one by the entryway so it's the first thing students see upon entering the room.

"I'm glad that it gets out there instead of being hidden away like a secret,'' Styner said of any intolerance of homosexuality at the school. "As teachers, we have to address these things. Students start to feel unsafe in the classroom."

Another teacher at the high school -- who was not one of the five Furtado referred to -- said he did not intend to display the poster.

Business teacher Robert Volpa said he was out of town Monday and did not attend the training session and had not heard about the poster. He said, however, he would not put it up in his classroom even though he agrees with the message.

"I think it's outstanding. Any hate language is not permissible," he said. But he added, "I have a problem with the district mandating anything that could be political."

Furtado said she is confident that every teacher eventually will comply with the district mandate. She said she intends to work with those teachers who have refused to ensure they comply with the order.

"We work in a public school," she said. "I have no wish to change anyone's personal belief, but we want all kids to feel safe. That's where we have common ground."

Lim said she had not heard from any of the other schools in the district about whether teachers were refusing to display the posters.

One student at the high school said she hopes the posters will make gay students more comfortable with being honest about their sexuality.

Senior Susannah Keith, 17, said she felt isolated in the school district for years because she felt she could not approach her teachers or other students about being gay.

"It made me feel good to see them," she said of the posters. "It reminds you that gay and lesbian people are everywhere, so watch what you say and what you do and maybe change your attitude."


Police defend drug sting at school as a deterrent

NARC: A Ramona High undercover program was effective, they say, but lack any hard evidence

By Sarah Burge, The Press-Enterprise, March 7, 2006

Riverside police arrested 13 students in a Ramona High School undercover drug sting last semester that some education officials say ensnares naïve teens while failing to catch major dealers.

The Ramona school-buy program was modeled after one pioneered 30 years ago by the Los Angeles Police Department that was ended last year amid criticism from school district officials.

Riverside Police Chief Russ Leach ran the LAPD school-buy program when he worked juvenile narcotics in Los Angeles during the early 1980s. He endorses it as an enforcement tool and a deterrent to students who bring drugs into schools.

Leach said he has no evidence that the school-buy program is effective, "but who's to say that any kind of narcotics enforcement works?"

"It's extremely beneficial if we can take some drugs out of the hands of some kids," Leach said. "If we can save one life, it's beneficial." Last semester, the Police Department recruited a young-appearing officer they believed fit the look of a teenaged "stoner" to work undercover. He enrolled at Ramona High School in Riverside and began hitting up students for drugs.

Not even the school staff knew the guy was a Riverside police officer sent to flush out campus drug dealers.

In three months, the officer bought drugs 25 times. On Dec. 6, police swept through the school to make the arrests, mostly for selling small amounts of marijuana.

It's difficult to determine how many Inland police departments run school-buy programs. Some are reluctant to say if they are, for fear of endangering the undercover officers. Others want to keep drug dealers guessing.

All a Setup?

Outside a Riverside courtroom in late January, 18-year-old Eric Bercher,a former Ramona student, slouched somberly on a bench next to his parents. Bercher was charged with two counts of transporting drugs for sale, including cocaine and ecstasy.

"I got set up bad," Bercher said, describing how the officer befriended him and other students, going to parties and football games, and cutting class with them.

"He bought me Taco Bell," Bercher said in disbelief.

Bercher pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in April. He said the officer's tactics were unfair and underhanded.

His mother, Maria Bercher, said she does not excuse the fact that her son was selling drugs but she said the officer pressured her son to get drugs for him.

"I think that what happened was not fair," his mother said, her eyes filling with tears. "He has been a good kid. He's a typical 18-year-old. After this, we just don't know what is going to happen. It's just ruined his life."

The police say they're after major drug dealers, she said. Instead, "it's like the little fish get caught."

Leach said the students who were arrested deserved to be arrested. "We're not out there to capture innocent little Johnny."

Other Ramona parents whose children were not arrested questioned the fairness of subjecting the school to bad publicity but said it was an acceptable way to deal with drugs in schools.

Nancy Brown, whose son is a sophomore at Ramona, called the undercover program "an excellent idea."

If they had been arrested for experimenting with marijuana, Brown said, she might be more sympathetic. "The thing was that they were selling it."

Numerous Complaints

LAPD officers busted thousands of teenagers with drugs on campus during the school buy program's 30-year run.

Detective Rick Bustamante, of the LAPD Narcotics Division, acknowledged that the department faced complaintsabout the program "ever since Day One back in '74." He said the problem isn't the school-buy program itself, but that it's hard for parents and teachers to admit there is drug dealing in the schools.

Linda Wilson, student discipline coordinator for Los Angeles Unified, said some district officials questioned the wisdom of placing an undercover officer in schools from the beginning. Then came a 1996 law requiring mandatory expulsion for students selling drugs, she said. The district recently expelled 50 students from a single school for drug-related activities, Wilson said.

Kevin Reed, school district general counsel, launched a review of the program after district officials noticed an increasing number of students arrested were in special education. Also, Reed said, the police typically found very small amounts of drugs, usually marijuana.

This suggested to district officials that police were catching gullible students who were eager not to sell drugs but to make friends. Meanwhile, they suspected, the serious drug dealers continued to operate.

There was no evidence that the program reduced the numbers of students using drugs, or even made drugs less available in schools, Reed said. After Reed and other education officials publicly criticized the program in August 2004, the LAPD canceled it the following spring.

The ACLU lost a lawsuit in 1980 that contended the program entrapped students and violated their privacy.

No One Knew

Riverside's Detective Ron Kipp said the department plucked its undercover officer from police dispatch. He had been through the police academy in Brea and was waiting for an officer position in Riverside.

Bryan Galbreath, 24, trained all summer. He did a two-day crash course with LAPD, made undercover buys with Ontario police, and practiced with Riverside narcotics officers, Kipp said. In Los Angeles, Galbreath said, the officers coached him on dressing and talking like a teenager -- right down to how to wear his shoelaces and to use the proper terms for drugs, like calling marijuana "cush" and not "pot."

Kipp posed as Galbreath's father when he registered for classes. They told Ramona officials Galbreath's name was "Brian Stone" and he had just moved from Los Angeles. Not even Ramona High School Principal Mike Neece knew Galbreath was an undercover cop.

Neece declined to comment on the school-buy program.

Galbreath said he would talk openly with students about using drugs, in hopes that dealers would approach him. Other times, Galbreath approached students and asked to buy drugs.

"If someone said 'no,' that was it," said Galbreath, who now works as a patrol officer.

Galbreath and Kipp said they're confident they arrested serious drug dealers, even though they caught them with only small baggies of drugs, mostly marijuana.

"If we stop one person from dealing drugs on campus, we were successful," Kipp said. "It was more than successful."

Kipp said only one of the 11 students, who were under 18, contested their expulsion in hearings in January.

Kipp won't say where the officers are this semester, or if the department has an undercover officer in the schools at all. Either way, Kipp said, "we want them thinking that we do."


Drug dog controversy wracks district

By Don Speich, Marin Independent Journal, March 13, 2006

Responding to widespread criticism including accusations of violating the constitutional rights of students, trustees of the Sausalito Marin City School District will hold a public hearing March 20 on the use of drug-sniffing dogs at a 38-student middle school in Marin City.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called on the district to terminate the practice, saying it violates constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure.

The NAACP has launched an investigation to determine whether the drug-sniffing dogs violate the civil rights of the students at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy.

Under the program, children once a month for the remainder of the school year will go outside and dogs will enter the classrooms and sniff backpacks and other personal belongings.

Board President George Stratigos announced the hearing at a board meeting Thursday night attended by more than 60 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were there to protest the drug dogs.

Interquest Detection Canines of Houston began work last month when representatives introduced students to the dogs that will be sniffing until June at a cost of $2,500.

Several people, including six students, had come to speak during the "public comment" part of the meeting.

The meeting, which began at 7 p.m., had an agenda with more than 30 items, the last of which was time for public comment. It is customary for most boards to schedule public comments at the beginning of a meeting.

Trustee Whitney Hoyt moved that the public comment be moved to the front of the agenda. Trustees Shirley Thornton, Robert Fisher, and Stratigos sat silently, staring straight ahead, and the motion died for lack of a second. Trustee Tom Clark did not attend the meeting.

Stratigos attempted to reassure the parents and students by saying they would have plenty of time to speak on March 20. The well-mannered audience, most of them Marin City residents, said nothing, though eyes were rolling and heads were slowly turning side to side.

Jim Geraghty, a resident of San Rafael's Canal district, walked over to the podium and complained that by the time public comment came around the students there would be home and in bed.

Then he turned to the audience and said if there were any civic teachers at the meeting they should "use this as a model" of how democracy should not work.

Before the meeting, 12-year-old Jordan Mosely, who along with several other students was armed with placards calling for an end to the drug-dog program, said the program is needless.

"Even if there was a drug problem, this is such a small school and everyone would know," he said. "We don't need dogs."

A majority of the trustees, who approved the program in November, concede they know of no drug problem at the middle school. And, they add, that is why they want the dogs, to prove they are right.

They said that in a quest to turn the predominantly minority district into one of academic excellence they will leave no stone unturned, even if it means drug-sniffing dogs.

Thornton, a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force, a former principal of San Francisco's Balboa High School and a former top administrator with the state Department of Education, has called schools "a hallowed ground" where nothing should stand in the way of academic achievement.

Stratigos said this week it was important to make sure there are no drugs at the school because it will give a new superintendent - expected to be hired by July - evidence that drug use will not impede a mandate from the board to make Sausalito Marin City "the best district in the county."

It is a rationale that, at least in part, prompted an investigation of the district by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Dan Daniels, NAACP statewide director, said, "They seem to be going into the school without probable cause."

Daniels as well as a representative of the ACLU attended the meeting.


School board in dog house

Trustees suspend drug-sniffing program at Marin City school

By Don Speich, Marin Independent Journal, March 21, 2006

Faced with threats of lawsuits, a recall election and the passionate denunciation of two leading civil-rights groups, trustees of the Sausalito Marin City School District voted Monday night to suspend a policy calling for drug-sniffing dogs at Martin Luther King Jr. Academy.

The board voted unanimously to suspend the policy for two months, during which time the policy, as well as alternatives, would be reviewed by parents, educators and civil-rights groups.

The board in November unanimously authorized the use of dogs at the Marin City middle school, which has 38 seventh- and eighth-graders. It was not until January, however, that parents were informed of the program, along with a notice that, in three days, dogs would be on campus.

On Jan. 23, the dogs were brought into MLK to meet the students. No inspections were performed and none have been since.

At Monday night's public hearing, attended by about 200 people at Bayside School in Sausalito, trustees were attacked repeatedly and heatedly by parents and students from Marin City as well as students and others from throughout Marin.

Terri Harris-Green, an MLK parent and a member of the Marin City Community Services District board, said, "I am outraged by your blatant disrespect of your parents. You know dogs are not the answer. They will only add to the traumatization of the children."

After calling for the policy to be rescinded, she added: "I am so disappointed I don't know what to do. I don't know what we have to do to get your attention. Is it going to take us recalling you as a board? What is it going to take?"

Juniper Lesnik, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union's Northern California office in San Francisco, told the trustees, "This policy violates the constitutional rights of King Academy students and it is simply bad policy."

The ACLU has charged the program has violated the students' constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure.

The board's attorney said the policy was constitutional because no student would be "randomly" sniffed by the dogs.

Under the program, Interquest Detection Canines of Houston would perform monthly inspections at a cost of $2,500 at the middle school. Students would leave their classrooms and dogs would then sniff the classrooms in other parts of the school for evidence of drugs.

Originally, parents understood that children's personal belongings would be subject to inspections, but it remained unclear at the meeting just what in particular would be sniffed.

Dan Daniels, statewide director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the "legality of the program will be taken up at another time," heavily implying a possible lawsuit.

"What now is being questioned is an ethical question," he said. "How do you justify dogs when there is no evidence of drugs?"

The trustees have repeatedly said they have no evidence of drugs at MLK but wanted the program to reassure themselves and the community that the school was drug-free.

Trustee Whitney Hoyt apologized to the audience for voting for a policy she hadn't examined. She said it had been included as part of a larger item on school safety.

"I can't remember ever having a discussion about it," she said. "I regret that I didn't read the policy at the time. That was my mistake."


Co-salutatorian may not be able to graduate

By Chris Moran, San Diego Union Tribune, March 25, 2006

CHULA VISTA – Bonita Vista High School senior Gordon Siu persuaded the school board three months ago to abolish senior portfolios as a graduation requirement starting next year.

Flush with victory yet disappointed that his class wasn't off the hook, Gordon continued his campaign. In February, he submitted a satirical portfolio he called “A Tribute to Mediocrity.” He thumbed his nose at school administrators on nearly every page.

He flunked.

Bonita Vista High's co-salutatorian has compiled a 4.52 grade-point average and received an acceptance letter to UCLA, yet as it stands right now, he won't graduate in June.

Gordon, who has lobbied a school board member over lunch and interns with the mayor of Chula Vista, didn't take this sitting down. He got a lawyer, alerted the media and arranged a meeting with the administration.

The educators' message was clear and consistent: no portfolio, no diploma, no exceptions. That goes even for students who have enough academic credit to enter college as a sophomore, as Gordon will if he passes the six Advanced Placement tests he intends to take this spring to add to the nine he has passed.

District policy gives failing students one do-over. Gordon plans to revise his portfolio. Still, he said, he believes he's been penalized for criticizing the portfolio requirement.

“The school is teaching students not to question the world around them, not to use critical thinking, and that they should just shut up and follow directions all through life,” Gordon said. “That is preparing students for working blue-collar jobs at McDonald's and Wal-Mart, and not preparing them for college and high-paying jobs that do require them to use critical-thinking skills.”

That's not the case at all, said Cynthia Roncoroni, the English teacher who graded Gordon's portfolio. Gordon simply didn't follow directions, she said.

“There are other things he could have chosen and still make his point and still be as literate or as sarcastic,” said Ramon Leyba, Sweetwater Union High School District assistant superintendent.

Roncoroni said passing would be as simple as hitting the print button on his home computer and submitting essays he wrote for college applications, essays that offer reflections on his learning.

“It really shocked me that Gordon was talking about not getting a high school diploma over this, over something he can so easily clear,” she said.

Gordon's portfolio doesn't just mock the assignment; it mocks the school system.

There's mention of his former assistant principal pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. Gordon suggests that a school board trustee who continues to defend the portfolio be recalled from office. A congratulatory form letter from his principal bleeds the red ink of Gordon's suggested grammatical and stylistic changes.

Content isn't the issue, Roncoroni and Leyba said. The portfolio doesn't demonstrate senior-level writing. The inclusion of the principal's letter ignores instructions to critique one's own work.

“This is a different stage. You're not playing to the public, you're not playing to a board member,” Leyba said.

Gordon started fighting in the fall.

Sweetwater has required seniors to compile portfolios for three years. The portfolio is a collection of reflective essays, examples of work from a student's high school years and a demonstration of plans, such as completed job or college applications.

District educators consider the portfolio an in-depth gauge of students' abilities that can't be captured in test scores.

But to Gordon it was busy work, a paper chase that seniors have thrown together in just a couple of days.

So he went to board meetings and delivered speeches ridiculing the requirement, including mention of another student's essay on lessons learned in using a glue stick to make greeting cards.

A trustee joked from the dais that he had spoken more to Gordon recently than to his own family. Another had lunch with him to discuss portfolios.

Gordon organized scores of South County high school students to picket outside the school board chambers and got hundreds to sign an online petition calling for the abolition of portfolios.

He sent out press releases summoning the media. He had an anti-portfolio essay published on the Union-Tribune's opinion page.

Leyba had been principal of Bonita Vista High until last summer and has a history with Gordon. They met three years ago when Gordon wrote him a letter appealing a grade in a freshman biology class, citing district policy on grading.

Leyba also read Gordon's investigative stories in the school newspaper. Through public records requests to the Sweetwater district, Gordon was able to write stories on the superintendent's expense account, political donations to school board members, the district's soda and class ring contracts, and spending on a Hall of Fame gala.

At one point Leyba defended Gordon by refusing former Superintendent Ed Brand's request to kill a story that Gordon was working on about Sweetwater building gymnasiums before classrooms with voter-approved bond money.

“When people get angry with him, I remind them that he's a kid,” Leyba said.

By his own admission, Gordon, 18, tried to do just enough to get by on the portfolio. He put it together in a night.

“Intellectually, the kid is brilliant,” Leyba said.

He passed two Advanced Placement tests without even taking the courses. He bought study guides the week before the tests and successfully crammed.

Instead of his portfolio's stated ambition of joining the troupe of River Dance, Gordon said he intends to major in political science and journalism.

He'll do that at UCLA, which he calls his “safety school,” or one of those he's waiting to hear from – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and others.

Assuming his revised portfolio passes muster, Gordon will have one more public forum before leaving Bonita Vista High: the salutatorian address. He hasn't written it yet, but he has a pretty good idea of what he'll talk about.


Bills nationwide address gays in schools

19 states have more or fewer rights for students on agenda

By Wyatt Buchanan, San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2006

Lawmakers in state capitols across the country are drafting legislation targeting gay and lesbian youth in public schools.

Gay rights leaders say the legislation results from the fact that young people are expressing their sexual orientation at younger and younger ages. But gay rights opponents say some schools and lawmakers have gone too far and actually are encouraging homosexuality among young people.

Two bitterly opposed bills working through California's Legislature are among the most far-reaching gay rights laws ever considered covering American youth. A Republican bill seeks to pull the debate in the other direction by curtailing discussions of homosexuality.

In at least 18 other states, including Nebraska, Iowa, Kentucky and Wyoming, a host of bills have been proposed to expand or limit the rights of gay and lesbian students.

"As people come out in high school, more and more communities around the country have begun to realize there are lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders who live there, who are from there and who are very much part of their community," said Eliza Byard, deputy executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network in New York.

"It has caused a lot of discussion and debate in places that did not have it previously," she said.

Most of the legislation falls into two categories. The most common is proposals for anti-bullying laws that may or may not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity. In a 2005 survey of gay and lesbian students, the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network found four-fifths of those students were harassed at school.

Sexual orientation -- real or perceived -- was the second leading cause of bullying in schools, according to that online survey of 3,450 students between ages 13 and 18, which did not use a scientific sample.

Also present, though less common among the bills working through state legislatures this year, are limits on student groups like Gay-Straight Alliance clubs that meet on campuses. The limitations, such as requiring parental permission to join, have been considered in Utah, Georgia and West Virginia, although the Utah and West Virginia legislatures adjourned without passing them.

California has Gay-Straight Alliances in 40 percent of its high schools, a total of 530 groups, more than any other state, according to Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network in San Francisco.

"We're seeing some really significant progress in California compared to the rest of the country," Laub said.

The California Legislature is considering a bill that would require public schools to implement an anti-harassment law passed in 2000 by publicizing it to students and teachers. Schools that don't comply could lose state funding.

Another bill, SB1437, which will be the subject of a legislative hearing Wednesday, would bar teachers and school districts from using curriculums that reflect adversely on sexual orientation and gender identity. A similar law already covers categories of race, religion and nationality.

Both proposals have drawn fiery criticism from the Campaign for Children and Families and that organization's director, Randy Thomasson, who calls the anti-discrimination bill, with its threat of withheld funding, "the intolerant hammer of the trans-bi-homosexual agenda forcing every California school to submit, or else." Thomasson is leading an effort to place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the state ballot.

Assemblyman Dennis Mountjoy, R-Monrovia (Los Angeles County), introduced a one-sentence bill that would limit discussion of gay-and-lesbian issues by prohibiting "promotion of homosexuality" in public education.

"What we'd like to say with this is we should be teaching kids the basics to get out of school, to get a good job or go to college if they wish. We don't need to be going into all this other stuff," said Mountjoy chief of staff JoElla Cudney.

The bill lacks strong support.

But the classroom has increasingly become a forum for discussion of sexual orientation. Last year, the Alliance Defense Fund, a Scottsdale, Ariz., Christian advocacy group, started the "Day of Truth," a one-day event started to counter the "homosexual agenda" of the "Day of Silence," where students show support for gay and lesbian classmates.

"The school yard is a First Amendment battleground," said Mike Johnson, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. "The other side in this debate has been more motivated to speak up, but we're trying to ensure that at least both sides get heard."

The Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network and the Christian Educators Association International earlier this month agreed to guidelines for discussing sexual orientation at schools. Those guidelines included: creating a task force of people with opposing views to advise school district officials, agreeing on current law on sexual orientation in schools, moving beyond the politics of "us versus them" and listening to all sides.

"Few issues expose our national divide more starkly than the conflict over how to deal with sexual orientation in public schools," the guidelines' opening paragraph states. "Advocacy groups on both sides are working hard to promote their perspective in the schools -- or at least to prevent the other side from promoting theirs."


Students' censorship suit nears settlement

By Shelle Branco, Bakersfield Californian, November, 2006

Former East Bakersfield High School newspaper students neared victory Thursday in their fight against the Kern High School District over censored articles about homosexual teens.

That's when the district and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which is representing the students, filed a joint request to settle a lawsuit.

The agreement is contingent upon Kern County Superior Court Judge Sidney P. Chapin's approval and would hold the district to its recently changed student free speech policy, said ACLU staff attorney Christine Sun.

Sun and district spokesman John Teves said they expect the judge to approve the request.

That might happen in the next few days, Sun said.

Staff members of The Kernal newspaper and gay teens featured in the stories fought East High Principal John Gibson and the Kern High School District last year to publish stories on the lives of homosexual students at the school.

The five stories were slated to run in April 2005; the stories ran that November.

The parties settled the case in the last few weeks, Sun said.

The new district policy, approved Oct. 19 by the district board, states "All students have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press."

It explicitly requires school officials to seek all other alternatives before censoring student stories.

Under the old district policy, school administrators didn't have explicit instruction to explore alternatives before censorship.

It only directed the superintendent to develop rules to ensure students' freedom of expression.

Former Kernal Editor in Chief Maria Krauter, one of the plaintiffs, said she was proud to have been a part of changing district policy. The 18-year-old is now a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley.

"It shows student journalists still have the right to think about and explore more sensitive issues, such as homosexuality, in an in-depth, educational manner," she said.

Gibson has said he pulled the articles because he was concerned hostile students would harm the teens featured in the stories.

Teves said the settlement affirms Gibson's actions.

"We view this as a win-win," he said.

Gibson could not be reached by phone for comment Thursday.

Teves said the district would still consider delaying stories that would create a situation of "clear and present danger" on campus. Schools could also take steps to increase campus security to address safety concerns.

Under the California Education Code, there are three instances in which a school can censor a story: if the speech is obscene, defamatory or incites students enough to create a "clear and present danger" of unlawful behavior.

Sun said none of those apply to The Kernal's case.

Alternatives to censorship might include increasing security on campus, school announcements that harassment is not tolerated, and meetings with parents and community members, Sun said.

The plaintiffs had asked the district to take such steps, Sun said.

"This would require the principal to address bullying and not turn to censorship as an easy way to resolve the problem," she said.

Teves said the problem was never about students' right to expression; it was about student safety. Gibson wanted to delay the stories until the "environment on campus was conducive to their release," Teves said.

Prior to the stories' first scheduled publication date, there were some school safety violations on campus that "indicated there was some tension in the air with regard to homosexuality," Teves said.

Teves would not comment on the nature of the incidents or examples of what would constitute a clear and present danger.

The new policy "better defines the district's practices," he said.

Sun said it is a model policy for high schools across the state.

It doesn't just affect speech on homosexuality -- it will help students to speak freely about religion, immigration, national defense and other topics of interest to students, she said.

Student plaintiff Krauter said the months of fighting have been worth it. The decision will benefit reporters at her high school and throughout the district. It also serves as an example for students across the state and the nation.

"I've taken away that it is really important to stand up for something you think and know is the right thing to do," she added.

Krauter is pursuing a degree in the humanities. She said she's considering a career in journalism, but she's keeping her options open.

KHSD policy changes


“The District Superintendent will develop regulations to ensure students’ right of expression on the high school campus.”


“Consistent with the California Education Code and other applicable state and federal law, it is the policy of the Kern High School District that all students have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press, and that all students have the right to participate fully in the educational process, free from discrimination and harassment. Accordingly, school officials will only restrict student speech in accordance with the provisions of Education Code Sections 48907 and 48950. Prior to any restriction of student speech, school officials will consider all practical alternative options, and, where feasible, will implement any such practical alternative options instead of restricting the speech.”

Story so far:

April 2005: Five stories about sexual orientation at East Bakersfield High are slated to run in the school newspaper, but Principal John Gibson pulls them, citing safety concerns for the homosexual students featured.

May 2005: Newspaper staffers again request publication but Gibson says no. The students, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, sue the Kern High School District. A judge refuses to force publication, saying a full hearing is necessary to explore all the facts.

Nov. 4, 2005: The articles are published in The Kernal virtually unchanged. The district says the safety issues that were present at the time are no longer a problem on the campus. The lawsuit continues.

June 2: The students request a court order requiring the district to protect free speech on campus.

Aug. 18: Kern County Superior Court Judge Sidney P. Chapin tentatively sends the case to trial.

Oct. 19: After ACLU and district discussions of a settlement this fall, the district board passes a change to the district’s student expression policy. The old policy directed the superintendent to develop regulations to ensure free speech. The new policy gives students the right “to exercise freedom of speech and of the press.”

Nov. 16: The district and the ACLU file a joint request to settle the lawsuit. Judge Chapin is expected to approve a court order that would hold the district to the new student expression policy.


Teachers union sues over grade flip

19 states have more or fewer rights for students on agenda

By Zachary K. Johnson , Stockton Record, April 3, 2006

TRACY - The teachers union just gave the Tracy Unified School District an F in teacher autonomy.

At least that's the Tracy Educators Association's view of a district decision to overturn a Tracy High School student'sfailing grade, according to a lawsuit filed by the union earlier this month.

The district abused its authority when it overturned a failing grade given by a 20-year teacher and assigned the unidentified student a passing grade, said Steve Sievers, union president.

"We feel it undermines our professionalism," he said.

Officials from the school district could not comment about the case because of the confidentiality of personnel issues, said district spokeswoman Jessica Wakefield. The teacher, Julie Abate, did not respond to requests for an interview.

The union is asking a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge to direct the district to restore the failing grade and pay court costs.

The student and her parents contested the grade.

After reviewing the case, Tracy Unified officials said there was a clerical mistake and gave the student a passing grade, according to the brief filed on behalf of the union by Lodi attorney James Driscoll, Jr.

But that student earned her F because she failed tests and did "inadequate" homework, he wrote.

Overturning Abate's grade "deprives Ms. Abate of the legal rights and privileges mandated by the California Education Code," Driscoll wrote.

The state Education Code states that teachers get the final say when determining student grades unless there is evidence of fraud, bad faith, incompetence or clerical error.

"The teacher has done none of those," Sievers said.


Tracy District ordered to reinstate student's 'F' grade

By Zachary K. Johnson , Stockton Record, October 26, 2007

TRACY - A judge declared the Tracy Unified School District must change a student's grade back to the "F" first awarded by a Tracy High School teacher in 2005.

The unnamed student appealed the failing grade to the school board, which changed the grade to a "D-" later that year.

The Tracy Educators Association filed suit in 2006, claiming the board overstepped its legal authority by changing the grade.

San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphries agreed.

The official order for the school district to change the grade back was issued last Friday.

"We wanted to send the message that we're the professionals and we give the grades, and we're jealously going to guard that," said Steve Sievers, the teachers union president.

Parents of the student had valid reasons to appeal the failing grade to the school board, Superintendent Jim Franco said.

"We felt that we had a good case, and we supported the parents in the original appeal," he said.

Officials will go over the decision with legal counsel, but the plan now is to comply with the decision, he said.

State law says teachers have the final say on classroom grades - except in cases of fraud, bad faith, incompetence or clerical mistakes.

Tracy Unified argued that the grade was overturned because of a clerical error.

Julie Abate, the veteran math teacher who gave her student the failing grade two years ago, said she was pleased with the decision. It's important for teachers to determine the grades of their students, she said.

"If the teacher is in charge of the classroom and the grading system, why should an outside person come in ... and say what you have decided is not correct?" she said.

Parents of the student appealed Abate's original grade because they wanted their daughter to be eligible to play sports, teachers union attorney Thomas J. Driscoll Jr. said.

"School boards should not be in the business of goofing around with grades so kids can play sports," he said.


District stands behind school's button-down dress code policy

By Cristina de Leon Menijvar, Napa Valey Register, April 9, 2006

Jeans, football jerseys, floral print tops and other fashion choices are off-limits for Redwood Middle School students.

A nearly year-long battle over the school's dress code came to a close at Thursday when Napa Valley Unified School District trustees unanimously voted to approve a strict policy, stating it helps ensure the safety of the campus and its students.

"You are creating a learning environment where kids don't feel threatened by others in gang attire," said trustee Frances Ortiz-Chavez.

The policy, which has stirred passionate speeches from parents who oppose it, does not allow students to wear jeans, two-toned clothing or prints of any kind. All clothing must be plain and solid colored. Acceptable colors are blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray, brown and black.

Despite requests from some parents to relax the policy to allow jeans, the only change made to the policy was the addition of yellow as an appropriate color.

Chuck Dresel, a teacher at Redwood, supports the policy, saying it helps to decrease potential violence.

"Applying this policy to all students would further our goal for safer school grounds," he said.

Redwood officials have been reviewing the dress policy since last September, and have included parent and community input. School officials have held various parent meetings and formed an appropriate attire policy committee to spearhead the review process.

Several parents have taken advantage of the meetings, expressing concern over the dress policy that they feel is too restrictive.

Earlier this year, Redwood sent out a survey to parents, asking their opinion of the policy, the strictest in the district. Seventy percent of those who responded supported it.

Parents who oppose the dress code have been vocal. Donnell Scott stated that the policy "might as well be called a uniform."

"Focus on education and quit worrying about if my daughter is wearing a floral shirt," said Scott.

Several other middle schools in the district also have a dress code policy, but are not as restrictive. Students are allowed to wear jeans and do not have color restrictions at both Silverado and American Canyon middle schools.

Redwood Principal Michael Pearson stands firmly behind the policy, saying it reflects the schools values and helps prevent violence.

Because dress policies must be reviewed yearly, Pearson added that changes can be made in the future.

"We will continue to revisit and refine (the policy), and make changes as needed," said Pearson.

Devin Wager, student representative for the school board, attended Redwood Middle School, and also supports the policy.

"I had to go through it two years, and it didn't kill me," she said. "It won't hurt anyone."


Judge rules against school's restrictive dress code

By Associated Press, July 5, 2007

NAPA -- Students have a right to express themselves through their clothing, as long as they're not promoting drug use or gang membership, a judge decided.

Redwood Middle School's nine-year policy requiring students' clothing and backpacks to be in solid colors with no pictures, words, symbols or patterns violated California law and their freedom of speech under the U.S. Constitution, Napa County Superior Court Judge Raymond Guadagni ruled on Monday.

School officials defended the dress code, saying it's meant to make school grounds safer by making it easy to spot outsiders and by curbing gang-related dress.

But the policy was challenged in a March lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six students who had been cited for violations including wearing a breast cancer awareness pin and socks showing the Winnie the Pooh character Tigger. The suit was filed against the school and the Napa Valley Unified School District, which approved the policy.

Guadagni issued an injunction barring enforcement of the dress code when classes starts again in the fall. The school can ban gang colors or symbols, and can punish students for statement promoting illegal drug use, but not for expressing themselves or taking stands on other public issues, he said.

He also said the school has the option of requiring all students to wear uniforms, though state law requires parents to get at least six months' notice and the right to exempt their children.

School officials would discuss what to do next during Thursday's school board meeting, said district attorney, Sally Dutcher.

Student fights write-up for showing U.S. flag

By Greg Moran, San Diego Union, April 13, 2006

When Malia Fontana went to school on Cesar Chavez Day, she brought the normal student gear – pen, pencil, books – and a little something extra.

A small American flag, tucked into the back right-hand pocket of her pants.

And for that, the Fallbrook High School sophomore was stopped by a security officer, taken to an assistant principal's office and written up in an incident report that was placed in her student file.

Malia Fontana, a sophomore at Fallbrook High School, received an incident report in her student file for tucking a small American flag in the pocket of her pants. She says her right to freedom of speech was violated. Malia, who is an honors student, said she was shocked, then dismayed at what she believes was a violation of her free speech rights on March 31.

She and her mother contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties, and the ACLU dispatched a letter to district officials demanding that they remove the report from Malia's file.

The ACLU also is demanding that the district fashion a policy that conforms to long-standing law allowing students the right to express themselves on campus. If the district does not agree, a federal civil rights suit will be filed on behalf of Malia, said Kevin Keenan, the ACLU executive director in San Diego.

“I didn't think it was right,” Malia, 15, said of the school's actions.

Officials with the school district, which is on spring break this week, did not respond to phone messages and e-mails seeking comment.

Malia said other students also were told to put flags away, including a friend who was told one day before Malia's encounter to put away an American flag bandana.

Seeing that spurred Malia – after talking it over with her mother, Nikki Fontana – to take the small flag to school the next day.

That was the week of emotional student demonstrations across the county over proposed revisions to immigration laws. In Oceanside on March 29 student protesters faced off with police and hurled milk cartons and other objects, prompting officers to respond with pepper spray.

The fracas led to Oceanside officials closing the middle and high schools for two days. Superintendent Ken Noonan then banned students from bringing flags on campus, contending that they were inciting misconduct.

He was roundly criticized because the ban, eventually lifted after tensions eased, prevented displays by students of the American flag, as well as the Mexican flag.

The flags had become powerful symbols – used by both sides in the debate – during the demonstrations.

While Oceanside was in turmoil, however, Fallbrook had a small and peaceful demonstration of about 50 students, and Malia said tensions were not running high at the campus.

Nonetheless, she said she was approached by a security guard during the lunch hour and told to put away the flag sticking out of her pocket.

Malia, who wrote a paper in eighth grade advocating a Children's Bill of Rights, asked why. “I said, 'I'm an American citizen. Why can't I wear the American flag?,'” she said.

Her refusal landed her in the office of the assistant principal. Malia eventually agreed to put away the flag and returned to class.

But an incident report, which can lead to more discipline such as Saturday detention or worse, was placed in her file. Malia's mother was told by school officials later that it would remain there until six months after her daughter graduated.

Nikki Fontana said her daughter has had no discipline problems in the past and was simply expressing herself.

“She wasn't raising the flag in anyone's face, causing a disturbance or anything,” Nikki Fontana said. “No one approached her and said they were offended. Her teachers didn't say anything.”

Keenan of the ACLU said the district appears to have no firm policy regarding what students can and can't do to express themselves. He said the law does allow school to restrict student expression, but only in certain circumstances.

“The law is very clear,” he said. “Only if they (school officials) can show that there has been or will be material and substantial disruption of school activities can they censor expression.”

He said that standard allows school officials leeway, while protecting student rights of expression.


Criminal background checks have sparked a senior prom controversy on Cape Cod after one school decided to run them on non-student dates

Yahoo News, May 12, 2006

NewsCenter 5's Kelley Tuthill reported that the state Department of Education said the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School policy may have violated state law.

The move outraged many in the community and left about six students without dates.

Tonya Dockray, 18, and her family have already spent nearly $700 for Saturday's prom at the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis.

"I bought a dress, purse, shawl so I don't get cold," she said.

As required, Dockray turned in a form to the school with information about her date, a 20-year-old she's been dating for three years. Last Thursday, her date was denied after failing a criminal background check.

"A couple of years ago, he was caught in possession of marijuana," Dockray said, adding he was not selling drugs. "He just had it on him."

This is the first year the school has done criminal offender record, or CORI, checks for non-student dates. Dockray's family said six applications were denied.

"Assault and battery, you know, violent crimes I understand. But this is extreme," said Dockray's mother, Angie.

The family said the school never told them that Dockray's date would be the subject of a background check.

"I think his rights were violated," Angie Dockray said. "In order to get a CORI, you have to give your approval. He never gave his approval."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said school districts are only supposed to CORI volunteers and employees.

Dockray is hopeful this story will have a happy ending.

"Every girl wants to go to the senior prom. Finding out you can't go with the person you want to is awful. I don't want to go alone," she said.

This is the first year the school district has administered the criminal records checks. In a statement released late Tuesday afternoon, the district said it's reviewing its policies to make sure none of them violate any state laws.


Grossmont High dress code prohibits certain attire but some students and parents say the policy is too restrictive

By Anne Krueger, San Diego Union Tribune, Ocotber 11, 2006

EL CAJON – Students at Grossmont High School are no longer allowed to wear clothing with large logos – meaning no more T-shirts with band names, designer labels or sports logos splashed across them.

Grossmont High School senior Jeff Walker said officials have gone too far in enforcing a new dress code. Jeff was wearing a T-shirt that officials said violates a ban on clothes with logos more than two inches high. Principal Theresa Kemper said the ban on clothes with logos more than two inches high makes the school safer and helps students focus on their studies.

Several students and at least a few parents disagree.

“We should be able to decide what we want to wear and not let other people decide,” said sophomore Vanessa Barnes, 15.

The Grossmont Union High School District board is being asked to approve the rule at its meeting tomorrow night, although Grossmont High officials have been enforcing it since the start of the school year.

The school, along with others in the district, instituted a new dress code last year. Grossmont High also adopted a “Dress for Success” wardrobe that requires solid-colored pants and collared shirts.

Students can opt out of “Dress for Success” if their parents give written permission, and about 20 percent of the school's 2,450 students have done so. All students are required to abide by rules prohibiting short skirts, baggy jeans and T-shirts advertising alcohol, tobacco, drugs or violent themes.

Kemper said school officials, in response to a student committee recommendation, decided to prohibit large logos on clothes because some students wore T-shirts with graphics that had messages promoting drugs, alcohol or gangs.

“It became very difficult to discern what was OK or not OK,” she said.

Unacceptable attire at Grossmont High School includes:

  • Baggy/sagging pants. They must be fitted at the waist and crotch.
  • Clothing with underwear showing.
  • Spaghetti straps. The straps must completely cover the undergarment.
  • Slippers and pajamas.
  • Clothing or jewelry with the Playboy symbol or the word “Hustler.”
  • Shirts, sweat shirts and jackets that display logos or graphics larger than two inches.

Students caught breaking the rule are sent to the cafeteria, where they change into a school T-shirt. Repeated infractions could mean detention or a ban from sporting events and dances.

Students also are required now to wear their school identification cards around their necks. Kemper said the ID cards and the dress code make it easy for school officials to quickly spot intruders on campus.

Jeff Walker, a 17-year-old senior, likes to wear T-shirts of his favorite bands – Metallica, Iron Maiden and Children of Bodom. But each time Jeff wore one of the shirts to school, he was cited for a dress-code violation.

Jeff said he thinks the school has taken the dress code too far.

“Instead of doing the work and saying, 'You can wear this, you can't wear that,' they just say you can't wear anything,” he said. “In a way, it's laziness on their part.”

Jeff's father, David Walker, agrees. David Walker said the dress-code rules take away his discretion as a parent to Jeff and his other son, Matt, 16, also a Grossmont student.

“I understand what they're trying to do,” David Walker said. “But in order to get rid of the gang clothes or the baggy pants, their blanket rule has been overly restrictive. It covers almost anything a normal person would wear to school.”

Walker said he plans to speak at the meeting tomorrow, and his sons are passing out fliers at school urging other parents to attend. Other parents also expressed reservations about Grossmont's dress code.

Jenny Rivera said her daughter, Nellie, ,16, is a high-achieving student with a 4.3 grade-point average. Nellie has been cited three times this year for dress-code violations.

“We're doing what we're supposed to do as parents and she's doing what she's supposed to do as a student, and she's succeeding,” Rivera said. “She's going to be successful regardless of 'Dress for Success.' ”


Ousted cheer student sues


By Rodney Foo, San Jose Mercury, Ocotber 26, 2006

Hold a Halloween party. Invite a few high school cheerleaders who arrive in lingerie-like costumes. Mix in some male prep athletes. Then add other students who smoke and drink. Take snapshots. Post them on MySpace.

What happens?

Five girls end up suspended from the cheerleading squad, no boys are punished and one of the cheerleaders sues the school district for sex discrimination.

Jaimee Bruno, 17, one of the five cheerleaders suspended from the Leland High School squad, and her mother, Denise Bruno, allege that educators selectively suspended the female cheerleaders for attending the 2005 party, but took no action against the male athletes. The Santa Clara County Superior Court lawsuit says the San Jose Unified School District violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act and seeks an unspecified amount in damages and reimbursement for attorney fees and other costs.

``We wouldn't be here if everyone was treated the same,'' said the Brunos' attorney, John Cardosi.

School district counsel Celia Ruiz said school officials had not yet been served with the lawsuit, which was filed last week. Nevertheless, Ruiz maintained there was no wrongdoing.

``The district absolutely denies that it's engaged in any discriminatory practices or policies,'' she said.

Because of the fallout from the party, the suspension and her fight against the penalty, Jaimee is no longer at Leland and is missing out on senior year activities, according to the family. She attends a middle college program at San Jose City College. She has also had to endure the suspension's stigma and the rumors it has generated, her mother said.

Some students and parents have leaped to the conclusion that the former cheerleaders must have done something terrible to have been suspended from the squad, Denise Bruno said. ``It kicked up rumors for quite a while; there were misconceptions going around,'' she said.

But both daughter and mother believe the avenue they have taken -- the courts -- is the right path and the only option left to them after school and district officials dismissed their complaints.

``I want kids to stand up for what they believe, for what their rights are, and for what they deserve,'' Jaimee said.

About this time last year, Jaimee was a member of Leland High's spirit squad when she and four other cheerleaders attended a Halloween party at a home. They dressed in costumes that looked like lingerie. Cardosi said Jaimee's costume was ``not any more revealing than a two-piece bathing suit.''

Boys who played on various Leland sports teams also were at the party. Other students at the party engaged in smoking and drinking, which Jaimee and the cheerleaders did not, according to Cardosi.

In early November, Leland school officials ``became aware'' of photos, showing the girls at the party, through a MySpace Web site, the lawsuit says. A friend of Jaimee's had taken pictures and posted them.

On Nov. 14 the girls were suspended from the squad for 12 months, effectively stopping them from participating in this fall's tryouts and banishing them from cheerleading for two years. School district spokeswoman Karen Fuqua said the girls had broken their ``contract'' with the school. Fuqua did not know which clause in the contract was breached.

Denise Bruno said the affected cheerleaders were accused of being at a party where smoking and drinking occurred.

The contract stipulates that the students refrain from smoking and drinking but does not preclude them from attending parties where others are doing it, Bruno said.

According to the lawsuit, the girls were initially told they were suspended ``because of the way they were dressed and because there was smoking and drinking at the party.''

Later, officials changed their justification by deleting the reference to the girls' costumes, the lawsuit says.

But the boys, who also were required to sign similar contracts, were not disciplined for attending the same party.

The lawsuit also alleges that in the past, photos of a naked male athlete were posted on MySpace and no action was taken against him by Leland.

Leland's ``justification for the spirit squad's suspension, that the suspension was for attending a party where there was smoking and alcohol was a pretext,'' the lawsuit alleges. ``The spirit squad members were suspended because of how they dressed at the party. The five spirit squad members, including the plaintiff, were suspended because they were female.''

In April, the Brunos appealed the school district's rejection of their complaint and request for Jaimee's reinstatement as a cheerleader to the California Department of Education, but they have not received any indication of when a decision might be rendered.

In retrospect, Denise Bruno said school officials could have handled the situation in a less draconian manner, using the incident instead to teach students about the hazards of a cybersociety.

``Things have changed a lot in the world,'' Bruno said. ``There is the evolution of the Internet, MySpace, and how schools are using that information. Students and administrators are struggling with this new technology right now. The problem is a lot of these girls got caught up in that evolution.''


Students, officials locking horns over blogs

By Alan Gomez, USA TODAY, Ocotber 26, 2006

Kids increasingly are spending their free time blogging and chatting on social networking websites, and school administrators aren't enthusiastic. School boards across the country already have blocked sites such as MySpace and Facebook on school computers. But school districts now are reaching into students' home computers, severely punishing and even expelling students for what they write on those sites from home.

Some examples:

  • A student at an Indianapolis-area school was expelled for making sexually explicit comments about a teacher on MySpace.
  • Officials at a Pittsburgh school kicked a student off the volleyball team for an Internet message that criticized an art teacher.
  • A cheerleader at a Fort Worth-area school was kicked off the squad for derogatory comments someone posted on her blog about other cheerleaders.

The issue has created a free-speech debate between school administrators who are worried about the disruption of the learning process on one hand; and students, parents and First Amendment advocates who are worried about whether overzealous school boards are overstepping their bounds on the other. The debate is beginning to be explored in courts.

"Some courts have said that speech which is done on school computers is clearly within the domain of the administration to set reasonable standards for. Some have said if it's off-site, then the students are fully protected. Some have said if it can be read by people on the school premises, then it comes within the jurisdiction of the school board," says Tom Clarke, a San Francisco attorney who works on First Amendment questions. "Those are the three crazy standards that currently exist."

School and First Amendment experts are unsure how many school districts have implemented such policies. But the confusion over how far school boards can go has left many students caught off guard when they are punished.

Kelsey Larson is the Texas girl who was kicked off her cheerleading team last year when a friend posted a derogatory statement about other cheerleaders on her blog. Officials at Birdville High School in North Richland Hills said the posting was a violation of the code of conduct for cheerleaders, which states they must "exhibit high moral standards."

Larson and her parents fought back, and she was reinstated earlier this year.

But her parents say the episode showed how school districts are "trying to do our job."

"If they spend as much time teaching as they spend telling parents how to parent, maybe we'd have smarter kids coming out of their schools," says Kelsey's mother, Kristin Larson.

In the Indianapolis case, Carmel High School officials expelled a student for making sexually explicit remarks and suspended another student for 10 days for racially offensive remarks about a teacher. In the Pittsburgh example, Jack Flaherty was kicked off his volleyball team by the Keystone Oaks School District for criticizing an art teacher. Flaherty sued and received $60,000 in a settlement from the district.

Witold Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, defended Flaherty and other students who were expelled and punished by schools for statements they made online from their home computers.

He agrees that districts should punish students who post admissions of illegal activity — such as high-schoolers who post pictures of themselves drinking, doing drugs or committing other criminal acts. He also agrees that racist remarks or postings that promote or predict violence should be punished.

But for the most part, he says, schools are going after students who simply are venting about teachers.

"Most of what we're seeing is not threatening speech. It's offensive speech — it's crude, it's juvenile, it's profane," Walczak says. "I actually think both students and officials need to learn a lesson from all this."

Says Clarke, the San Francisco attorney: "Sometimes I'm very surprised how paranoid school districts are about what is said about teachers. That seems to be a focus of a lot of their concern, that nobody bad-mouth their fine, exemplary teaching."

But school officials say students are increasingly crossing the line from innocent rants about teachers to harassment or worse.

"When you're a teen, you write things on a blog that you would never say to someone else in person," says Jim White, director of information services at the Clark-Pleasant Community School Corporation. "So we want them to learn that they have First Amendment rights, but there's a responsibility that comes with that speech."

The Clark-Pleasant district adopted a policy Oct. 17 that warns students they could be punished for comments they make online, from home or school.

"In essence, you blog ... at your own risk," the new policy reads.

Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, says safety on school grounds is especially sensitive right now because of the recent spate of school shootings.

"The context of the times obviously adds a dimension of concern," he says.

But Houston also concedes that school boards are struggling to find the hard-to-reach balance between ensuring a safe and efficient school setting while giving students their due freedoms.

Some school boards already have seen their policies shot down in court, and Houston says that could continue for another decade while courts decide how far districts actually can go.

"It's a balancing act," he says. "I don't think the schools can just sit back on this. But if you go in too heavy-handed, you're going to get slapped around in the courts."


High school in Irvine drops plan to scan fingerprints

Proposal was supposed to speed food lines and deter theft at University High, but school district officials scrap the idea after privacy issues are raised

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2006

A plan to scan the fingerprints of 2,200 Irvine high school students to ease lunch lines was scrapped this week after angry parents argued it would violate teens' privacy rights.

A spokesman for the Irvine Unified School District said district administrators had been unaware of University High School's proposal and had halted its implementation.

"This is not something we will be using at our schools," said Ian Hanigan, district spokesman. "It's safe to say that this pilot [program] was marched out probably a little too quickly, without the study and evaluation needed to do something like this."

Students currently use a numeric code linked to a prepaid account to buy their lunch or snacks. But theft of the codes, coupled with a desire to reduce students' time spent in line, prompted Principal John Pehrson to consider fingerprint scanning.

"We wanted to speed up the process and make the theft [aspect] minimal," he said. "This was an idea that is already being used in other parts of the country."

Such technology is used primarily at schools on the East Coast and in the South, as well as in Europe. A quarter of the school districts in West Virginia use fingerprint scans to identify students, according to Anne Marie Dunphy, chief financial officer of Malvern, Penn.-based identiMetrics, which created the technology and has placed it in more than 400 schools across the nation.

Dunphy said scanning teens' fingertips was far more secure than having students carry identification cards with their picture, name and school location, which can easily be lost.

University High School had planned to start scanning students' fingerprints Monday. Students' index fingers would be mapped by a biometric scanner, which would create a grid of the unique lines, curls and swishes. These points would be converted into a series of numbers, which would be used to identify students when they bought their lunches.

No fingerprint pictures are saved, said Jay Fry, president of identiMetrics. "You can't re-create a fingerprint image from the information that is stored," he said.

He also said that educators needed to inform students, teachers and community members about how the technology works.

"It certainly is a matter of educating the public," Fry said.

Dunphy added: "It's very simple to install, and it's very easy to use. People get weirded out."

Indeed, local parents and civil libertarians are skeptical.

Ted Faison, the father of a University High senior, said he learned about the proposal when he received a letter Friday informing him that the scanning was to begin Monday.

"It's a violation of their privacy," he said. "They collect enough information to identify a person's fingerprint, and could easily share this with law enforcement or anyone else. Students would have no control over where the information could be used."

Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed.

"Parents are rightly concerned about the privacy of their children," he said. "These fingerprint scanners look like overkill. You can do the same identification of students without this type of technology and without the danger of creating a database that could be used for other purposes or that could be breached."

Junior Emerald Greene described the proposal as "creepy."

"It is an invasion of privacy because they are monitoring what food I buy and how much money I spend," the 17-year-old said.

Fingerprint payment

A fingerprint payment system University High School students were to use to pay for cafeteria food was scrapped by Irvine Unified School District.

  1. A student using the fingerprint payment system would have his or her finger scanned in advance.
  2. Computer software would create a grid of intersection points from the scanned finger's swirls and arcs.
  3. The software would then create a template showing the intersection of unique points on the finger.
  4. The software would store a set of numbers that could be interpreted only as a template. A fingerprint image would not be stored.
  5. When the student returned to buy food, his or her finger would be scanned again, forming another fingerprint template, which would be matched to the stored template.


Passion fills O.C. court in trial over student rights

Closing arguments are made in a suit over an O.C. principal's actions against two girls who went steady. The one suing says she was outed.

By Kelly-Anne Suarez, Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2006

Two high schoolers are caught kissing on campus.

Ordinarily, such an incident would garner little attention. But for Charlene Nguon, a smattering of kisses and hugs stolen after school and in between classes led to detention, suspensions, a transfer and a lawsuit.

The reason? That's what a federal judge in Santa Ana will soon decide.

Nguon says it's because she was kissing a girl. Ben Wolf, who was then principal of Garden Grove's Santiago High School, says that's not the case at all. He insists the problem was that, regardless of whether it was a girl or boy, Nguon continued the kissing despite repeated warnings to knock it off.

For two weeks, a stream of recent high school grads and administrators have filed into U.S. District Judge James V. Selna's courtroom. Students told of couples making out around the clock, but their elders said "the children" minded their manners and their superiors. At times, the testimony seemed straight out of sixth period: a football player and cheerleader spied kissing in the quad; Nguon's salacious blog entry denouncing a classmate for an "annoying" voice and crybaby ways; a messy breakup, documented in an expletive-laden instant message chat.

The teenage dramas were unfurled as hard evidence.

In her civil rights suit, Nguon is seeking $300,000 to $1.3 million in damages from Wolf and several Garden Grove Unified School District officials. She alleges that their actions caused her nearly straight-A grades to plummet and drove her into a depression so deep she began cutting herself and contemplated suicide.

The suit also seeks district policy changes that would prohibit administrators from revealing a student's sexual orientation or selectively enforcing discipline on that basis. Nguon also wants all disciplinary measures expunged from her academic record.

Both sides wrapped up their closing arguments Tuesday. Attorneys have a week to file any motions, and Selna will make his ruling sometime after that.

Dan Stormer, one of Nguon's attorneys, said in an interview that discrimination against gay students in schools was "rampant" nationwide. He said few cases had gone to court because it's difficult to prove.

Both sides in the case agree that the problems began one day after school in December 2004, during Nguon's junior year, when Wolf called her into his office after someone spotted her kissing her then-girlfriend, Trang Nguyen. A parent had previously seen the couple kissing and complained, Wolf testified. Throughout the following months, the principal and others repeatedly disciplined the girls for public displays of affection.

Wolf and other school officials testified that when heterosexual couples were warned to cool it, they always did.

Nguon, now a psychology major at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, testified that the principal outed her by telling her mother she had been caught kissing a girl. Christine Sun, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who is also representing Nguon, called it an invasion of privacy.

Wolf testified that he "may have" told Nguon's mother she'd been kissing a girl, but that if he did, it would not qualify as disclosing her sexual orientation. Other school officials testified to that effect.

During his closing argument, Wolf's attorney, Dennis J. Walsh, said girls locking lips is a fad, pointing to the televised kiss between Britney Spears and Madonna.

Stormer, Nguon's other attorney, trotted out the infractions his client and her girlfriend allegedly committed: lying on a bench while French kissing, putting their hands up each other's shirts and biting each other's lips in the library, all of which the two denied.

"Did it ever cross your mind that they might be gay?" Stormer asked. No, Wolf testified.

Walsh argued that regardless of what the principal said, Nguon was "openly gay," and if Nguon wanted it kept private, why didn't she tell Wolf?

The judge interrupted. "Should a 16-year-old have to tell her principal what her constitutional rights are?"

Hours of the trial were devoted to defining "making out." Were tongues involved? How many seconds did it last? Eyes opened or closed? Were hands under the blouse placed on the hips or farther north?

Questions often triggered laughter in the courtroom, such as when Walsh asked William Vo, Nguon's classmate and friend, about a short MTV item on the case in which he appeared.

"Did you think it was cool to be on MTV, Mr. Vo?" he asked.

Turning the tables on the lawyer, Vo leaned forward: "What's your definition of cool?"

In closing arguments, the defense attorney argued that Nguon wasn't traumatized by the events of her junior year but reveled in the attention, considering her appearances on MTV and "Anderson Cooper 360," and a spread in Teen People. Walsh said her grades and attendance didn't drop significantly until the second semester of her senior year, a year after her problems with Wolf. Walsh said most of the stress the teen suffered was not due to the principal but her failing relationship with Nguyen.

On the plaintiff's side, one focus of Stormer's closing argument was school policy. He said that when Wolf told Nguon's mother her daughter had been kissing a girl, he was revealing her sexual orientation. Would it not be sufficient to say she was caught making out? He said school officials testified that they would never use a student's race or ethnicity as an identifier.

Walsh warned that siding with the plaintiff on that point would force "a lot of school districts throughout this state to change the way they communicate."

To which the judge replied, "What's wrong with that?"


Do teachers have right to free expression?

By Helen Gao, San Diego Union Tribune, February 6, 2007

It's not just students who get into trouble for what they do online, teachers do, too.

A San Diego Unified School District investigation into a middle school instructor's personal Web content has stirred debate about teachers' right to privacy and what districts may or may not do to regulate their online activities.

The history teacher at Challenger Middle School stepped down as a chaperone for a popular East Coast trip after someone complained about his MySpace page. The person who made the complaint has not come forward, and the district won't discuss it, saying it's a personnel issue.

The teacher, Gerald Gapusan, has told parents he did nothing wrong. He declined to be interviewed.

In Virginia, a teacher was fired last month for posting a video on YouTube showing his abstract artwork, much of which was produced when he smeared his buttocks and genitals with paint and pressed his backside against the canvas, according to the Associated Press.

Many districts, including San Diego Unified, govern the use of district-owned computers, but not what employees do on their own computers on their own time.

“We certainly would not advocate just because you are a public employee, you give up your right to free speech, but again, because of your position, you use your discretion,” said Frank Caso, a consultant for the California Teachers Association.

Teachers are role models and should be held to high moral standards, said Camille Zombro, president of the San Diego Education Association, which represents more than 8,000 teachers, counselors and other certificated staff members in the state's second largest district.

However, Zombro also defended Gapusan, saying in a statement “his private life should not be the subject of public scrutiny.”

Legal experts said teachers' online activities at home are protected by the First Amendment, unless they are illegal or affect their school.

“The courts have said that if the misconduct occurs outside of the school, in order to discipline the teacher, you need to show a connection to the school,” said Ron Wenkart, general counsel for the Orange County Department of Education.

“Did it disrupt education? Did it disrupt the relationship between teachers and students? You have to show that connection.”

Attorney Daniel Shinoff offers this scenario to show how a school district could reasonably take action against a teacher: Say a teacher states online that the students in his class are hot, and a student finds that comment offensive and feels uncomfortable going to class.

“It's not just the First Amendment that comes into play,” said Shinoff, who advises school districts in San Diego County and elsewhere.

Shinoff said it would be wise for districts to work with teachers to develop guidelines governing online activities outside of school.

In Gapusan's case, many parents are saying since his private postings have not affected his professional performance, they should not be an issue. Citing something as distasteful as the reason for an investigation troubles some parents.

“Me and you, we can look at something differently. To me, it's not in good taste. To you, it is fine or vice versa,” said Bob Turner, a Challenger parent and outspoken supporter of Gapusan.

Gapusan's backers say that had he done something wrong, he would have been removed from the classroom.

Zombro said the district had handled the Challenger situation poorly and let it escalate. Parents are frustrated because they say they have not been given a full accounting.

“There are all sorts of innuendos. Who knows what the facts are,” Zombro said.

She said she was not privy to what was on Gapusan's site, but confirmed the union advised him to step down as a chaperone to quell concerns.

Gapusan, or Mr. Gap, as he's known, has since said he'd like to be reinstated, according to Turner. However, district Superintendent Carl Cohn has said that won't happen while the investigation is ongoing. Gapusan is being represented by a lawyer retained by the teachers union.

In the Virginia case, the teacher has retained the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge his firing.


Extracurricular videos roil campus

Malibu High students secretly tape unguarded moments for YouTube

By Tami Abdollah and Amanda Covarrubias, Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2007

In one, secretly videotaped by a student, a teacher at Malibu High School loses control of the class and raises his voice while students laugh at him. In another, teenagers make fun of fellow students, who also appear to be taped without their knowledge.

The videos have roiled the high school and sparked a debate among students, parents and administrators about what to do. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District started by restricting access to YouTube at school and talking about what types of technology — such as digital cameras, personal digital assistants and laptops — students can use on campus.

YouTube, MySpace and other websites are sprinkled with videos taken in high school classrooms around the country — often, it appears, without permission of the subjects. Many are relatively tame — others not. One popular YouTube video called "The Angry Teacher" shows a male instructor increasingly losing his cool to a classroom of unruly students. Another shows an agitated teacher pulling a chair out from underneath a student.

But policing these secret videos is proving a challenge for educators, who say they must balance protecting the rights of students to express themselves in this digital age with the need to shield classmates and teachers from ridicule.

"It's a gray area for us," said Malibu High Principal Mark Kelly. "We want to recognize our students' free speech rights, but on the other hand we have to assess the educational impact to the students and our school. Is this going to disrupt the education process of the school day?"

Officials at Tesoro High School in south Orange County are dealing with the same question after students secretly taped a teacher on campus and posted it on YouTube.

The clip, which is 2 minutes and 22 seconds long, features video of a white-haired teacher walking around the Los Flores school, edited to accompany the lyrics of the Bee-Gees' "Staying Alive." The YouTube user who posted the video wrote: He "gave me a D in biology freshman year. [He's] a sexy beast. Who's laughing now!?"

Officials at Capistrano Unified School District said they were unaware of the video until The Times contacted them, noting that access to YouTube is blocked on all district computers.

Tesoro Principal Dan Burch said he was alarmed to learn that students were videotaping teachers on campus without permission, but added it was such a new issue he would need time to figure out a response.

"People's rights, in my opinion, are being violated," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to do about it. Frankly, it's the first that I've heard about anybody from my staff" being videotaped.

In Malibu, officials still don't know who took the videos. They didn't even know the videos were on YouTube until the student school board member told them about it and the Malibu High newspaper wrote an article about the controversy.

While students are not supposed to use their phones in class, the reality is much different.

"It's very easy to conceal phones and not have teachers notice," said Sarah Paxton, a senior at Malibu High and the student representative on the school board. "Most students will use books and then have phones in their laps, and they'll text message, or you can have a sweater covering [the phone] so only the camera shows. It's not that difficult, especially if the teacher is trying to focus on the whole class."

That's what happened on one of the videos, in which students compared a popular math teacher with an unpopular substitute teacher.

Malibu High math teacher Ruben Scott, who was depicted in the online video, learned about it from a student and had seen the footage on YouTube.

"In my particular case because it was an innocuous moment, I didn't feel particularly upset about it," Scott said. "But in principle, I was very upset. Teachers have enough problems as there is…. When I come into the classroom I expect to be exposed to my 30 students at that period, not to the world at large."

The classroom videos represent the latest headache for educators trying to police student misdeeds on the Web. Two years ago, school officials across L.A. were grappling with a website managed by a teenager, in which students placed offensive comments about classmates and teachers for all to see.

School officials in Toronto this month are considering a ban on cellphone use in classrooms and hallways after students taped several fights and posted them on the Web. In England, educators have tried to crack down on so-called "teacher-baiting," in which students purposely taunt a teacher and then capture his or her response on cellphone video.

"Cyber-bullying has been an issue the last couple of years," said Santa Monica-Malibu school board President Kathy Wisnicki. "Now with YouTube, we're just seeing the potential ways that it could cause a situation on our campus among students with teachers, and we're going to have to examine that."

MySpace last fall released a guide for school administrators, advising them to contact the site about false or offensive user profiles or to report threats or cyber-bullying. It also created a hotline and e-mail address for exclusive use by school officials to contact MySpace.

YouTube also has written guidelines that prohibit inappropriate content, including real violence. If the video shows someone getting hurt, attacked or humiliated, they are asked not to post it and such material is removed promptly once officials are notified, said a spokeswoman for the company.

But even some teachers question whether simply keeping camera phones out of classrooms is the answer, especially when digital technology is becoming an increasingly important part of life.

Malibu High journalism advisor and English teacher Nancy Martinez said students might have legitimate reasons for videotaping a lecture, such as viewing it later to study and learn the material. Therefore, sometimes teachers might be reluctant to tell students to turn off their cameras.

"The No. 1 thing is your relationship with your students," Martinez said. "They have to respect you, and if you're being made fun of in any way, and it's being passed around the Internet, now you've got video on the Internet. Respect is so important in the classroom, and if it's being degraded by this, it is hard for some teachers. It's not funny."

Officials in the Los Angeles Unified School District are not aware of any students in their schools who have posted videos to the Internet that malign teachers. But the district was grappling with an incident at Miguel Contreras Learning Center near downtown Los Angeles, where student Alpacino Nuñez, 17, set up an online forum for his fellow students.

Administrators, citing the district's zero tolerance for bullying, blocked access to the site from school computers after a student posted comments that teachers and students found to be offensive and demeaning. Nuñez said administrators told him to take the site down as well.

District officials could not comment on specifics of the incident because of student privacy concerns, said district spokeswoman Hilda Ramirez.

Los Angeles Unified, like many other school systems, has a strict policy governing the use of cellphones in the classroom, stating that if a teacher so much as catches a glimpse of a cellphone in a classroom, the phone can be confiscated.

But educators are quick to point out that most students post and read offensive materials on their home computers.

That means that school districts need to take the issue to parents, said Lisa Soronen, staff attorney for the National School Boards Assn.,

"It's another way for teenagers to torture people," she said. "In most cases, if the school contacts YouTube or MySpace and asks them to remove it, they will. And the easiest thing to do is contact the parents and tell them what's going on. In most cases, they'll put a stop to it."


Biggs High School, student clash over anti-war display

By Ryan Olson, Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2007

The family of a Biggs High School freshman claims administrators violated her First Amendment rights by removing a large display against the Iraq war that they put up on campus Thursday morning.

Keosha Chambers objected to the school's homecoming theme, "Support Our Troops." The festivities included a "Military Day" Thursday where students were encouraged to wear garb relating to the armed forces.

Chambers was also concerned about the Iraq war where thousands of American soldiers have lost their lives.

"I felt sad and wondered why nobody would speak about this," she said.

Working with her father, Mark, she worked on a display that they put up at 6:30 a.m. Thursday along the wall of the old middle school building.

"We wanted to show what it looks like for 3,100 people to have died," Mark Chambers said.

The exhibition stretched across most of the building's full length, based on a photo provided by the Chambers. Most of the display was filled with pages printed with the names of American soldiers killed in the Iraq war. On the right end were pamphlets and the words:

"Support our troops not militarism" and "3,100 U.S. dead. Ask why." The display didn't remain up for long.

Vice Principal Candelaria Leon said she worked in conjunction with the principal to take the display down. She said the school didn't initially know who put the sign up.

"That was one of the problems — it just showed up," Leon said.

The district's policy calls for people wishing to post printed materials to provide them to the principal's office a day in advance for review.

Leon said the principal can delegate the review responsibilities. She said teacher advisers to organized clubs often review their clubs' posters and fliers before they are posted.

Leon said the Chambers could submit their display for review, but noted it would need to be a "reasonable" size. Posters and fliers need to be able to share space on bulletin boards and other areas, such as the multipurpose room.

However, there are no specific size standards. There were several large posters on the walls. At about 5 feet wide, they're considerably smaller than the Chambers' display.

Leon couldn't say if the school board would consider establishing specific guidelines.

"It wasn't an issue until now," she said.

The limitations are part of the district's free-speech policy that bars the school from interfering with a student's freedom of expression "except as allowed by law." The district has to apply the limitations fairly and in a way to allow speech without jeopardizing the health and safety of students.

"As I explained to her, she has the freedom to express herself," Leon said.

The school hasn't enforced the restrictions in the policy until Thursday, according to Mark Chambers.

"They don't live up to it," he said.

Mark Chambers pointed to several homecoming and club banners, saying they weren't approved. He also claims the banners for tonight's game also didn't need to pass the district's muster.

The Chambers have issues about the size of posters. Mark Chambers said it would be difficult to display the names of the war dead on smaller poster.

He alleged district officials are also trying to claim the display would be disruptive because of its anti-war message in a conservative community.

Keosha Chambers said she understood the risks for making an unpopular stand. She said truly dangerous items should be addressed, but views her display as a "statement of political peace."

The district's policy limits items that may cause a "substantial disruption" of school operations. Leon said part of the review process looks at students' safety.

Mark Chambers disagrees with the district's policy to review proposed materials, calling it prior restraint. While he wouldn't support a posting free-for-all, he supports advance education of what's allowed and then action only after something is posted.

The Chambers were waiting to hear back from the San Francisco office of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday afternoon before deciding what to do next. Mark Chambers said the school succeeded in chilling his daughter's speech because the display was intended to counter "Military Day" and the homecoming banners.

"Today was the day to make the statement," he said.

Biggs schools' policies address free speech

The Biggs Unified School District has an established policy addressing students and their First Amendment rights. The policy was cited during Thursday's dispute over a student's unauthorized display at Biggs High School. Here is the policy as provided to the Enterprise-Record by Biggs High Vice Principal Candelaria Leon:

BP 5145.2(a)


The primary liberties in a student's life have to do with the process of inquiry and learning, of acquiring and imparting knowledge, and of exchanging ideas. Students have the right to express opinions, to take stands, and to support causes, publicly or privately. The school shall not interfere with these liberties, or with the students' access to or expression of controversial points of view except as allowed by law.

In imposing limitations on student expression for any reason under the provisions of this policy, the school must ensure that its rules are applied on a non-discriminatory basis and in a manner designed to assure maximum freedom of expression to the students without endangering the health or safety of other students.


Students shall not be allowed to distribute materials, wear buttons, badges or other insignia, or post notices or other materials which:

  1. Are obscene to minors according to current legal definitions.
  2. Are libelous or slanderous according to current legal definitions.
  3. Incite students, express or advocate racial, ethnic, sexual, or religious prejudice so as to create a clear and present danger or the imminent commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.
  4. Are distributed, displayed or circulated in violation of the time, place and manner requirements.


All printed material posted or distributed on campus or in the immediate vicinity of school property, including but not limited to, all petitions, circulars, leaflets and newspapers and all material displayed on bulletin boards shall be submitted to the principal's office at least twenty-four hours prior to such display or distribution. Approval or disapproval of such material shall be in accordance with the standards specified above. The principal may limit the number of students or groups of students that may distribute materials in one day.


Fighting for the right to wear Tigger

ACLU sues Napa school over dress code that requires solid colors, bans all denim

By Demian Bulwa, Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2007

Some schools ban gang colors. Others prohibit miniskirts. But 14-year-old Toni Kay Scott and her parents say they weren't prepared for a school that outlawed Tigger on a pair of socks.

For coming to class at a Napa middle school wearing hosiery that portrayed the Winnie the Pooh character -- in violation of the school's solid-colors-only, no-pictures, no-logos dress code -- the seventh-grader landed in the principal's office, and then in a detention program called Students With Attitude Problems.

Now Redwood Middle School and the Napa Valley Unified School District, which approved the code, have landed in court.

The school's "unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and restrictive uniform dress code policy'' flouts state law, violates freedom of expression, and wastes teachers' and students' time and attention that would be better spent on education, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a suit filed Monday on behalf of six students and their parents.

Toni Kay, now an eighth-grade honors student, said Tuesday that she's been cited more than a dozen times in the last 1 1/2 years, and sent home from school twice, for such infractions as wearing a polo shirt with the manufacturer's butterfly logo, a pair of pink tennis shoes and a shirt with the insignia of the anti-drug program D.A.R.E.

"All my friends that go to other schools, they can wear jeans. They can wear stripes and patterns. I'm like, I wish I could wear that but I can't,'' she said.

When she picks out her clothes every morning, she said, "I'm asking myself, is this OK for school, or am I going to get dress-coded?''

The school policy, in effect for more than a decade, requires students' clothes and backpacks to be entirely solid colors: The only colors permitted are blue, white, green, yellow, khaki, gray, brown and black. The only acceptable fabrics are cotton twill, chino and corduroy.

No jeans or "denim-looking'' clothes allowed. No pictures, words, symbols or patterns, except the school logo. And definitely no Tigger.

The school's policy statement says the rules were developed "to ensure the safety and protect the instructional time of all students.'' District Superintendent John Glaser said Tuesday that the school board reaffirmed the policy last year.

Both Glaser and Michael Pearson, the school's principal, declined to comment on the suit. But in a 2005 interview with the Napa Valley Register, Pearson said the policy allows the school to level the playing field.

"We do not have to deal with issues of kids who are dressing a certain way because their parents are able to shop at the fashionable stores," Pearson said. "You cannot tell on my campus the kids that come from a low-income family.''

The policy was also defended by a parent, Mike Blom, whose two sons used to attend the middle school. He said repealing the policy might make it harder to regulate gang clothing.

"Our time with the children is relatively short before they become adults,'' Blom said in an e-mail. "There are so many ways to enhance their personalities outside of what they wear.''

The suit, filed in Napa County Superior Court, illustrates the tension between school authority and student autonomy that is also being played out on the national stage.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard an Alaska high school student's challenge to his suspension for displaying a banner reading, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus,'' outside the school as an Olympic torch parade passed by.

The student said the banner was a prank intended for television cameras and that his punishment for off-campus expression was unconstitutional. The school principal said the banner promoted drug use in violation of school policy.

The case could lead to a narrowing of the Supreme Court's 1969 ruling that declared students have the same right of free speech as other Americans, as long as that speech doesn't disrupt the educational process.

The Napa lawsuit dates from Toni Kay's first day at Redwood Middle School in September 2005.

According to the suit, the girl went to class wearing a denim skirt, a brown shirt with a pink border and long blue socks with pictures of Tigger. She was escorted to the principal's office by a uniformed police officer and was sent to the in-school suspension program, the suit said.

Toni Kay's sister, Sydni, now in the sixth grade, was given a warning last year for wearing pink socks, and was sent to the principal's office last month for wearing a T-shirt reading, "Jesus Freak,'' the suit said.

Another plaintiff, eighth-grader Meilissa Phan, was cited once for wearing a ribbon in her hair, and another time for wearing a pink ribbon pin in support of breast cancer awareness, the suit said.

"I don't like wearing the same things everyone else is wearing,'' 11-year-old Sydni said Tuesday. "You're sitting there and five other people are wearing the same thing.''

Her mother, Donnell Scott, said, "I think my children should be able to, within guidelines, express themselves. This is a public school. It's my job to decide what's appropriate for them. It's (the school's) job to educate.''

California law allows schools to adopt dress codes to address gang problems and other safety concerns. Schools can also require students to wear uniforms, if parents are given six months' notice and are allowed to exempt their children. The lawsuit said the Redwood Middle School policy is the equivalent of requiring students to wear uniforms, without the parental exemptions provided by state law.

The suit seeks a court order banning enforcement of the policy or allowing parents to exclude their students. It does not seek damages.

Other Bay Area school districts have a variety of clothing policies. Most ban gang-related symbols and revealing attire. Some prohibit red and blue colors associated with prominent gangs, and some ban low-sagging jeans.

Uniforms are required in some San Francisco schools and in nearly all elementary and middle schools in San Jose. Karen Fuqua, spokeswoman for the San Jose Unified School District, said the policy helps school officials spot nonstudents and encourages youths to focus on learning instead of competition in apparel.

Occasionally, she said, someone objects to the stifling of youthful creativity, and the district replies, "Let their creativity show in the classroom.''


California Supreme Court lets stand free-speech ruling for student

By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, September 13, 2007

The state Supreme Court rejected the Novato school district's challenge Wednesday to a ruling that upheld a high school journalist's right to write an anti-immigrant editorial and affirmed California's strong legal protections for students' free speech.

The justices unanimously denied review of an appeal by the Novato Unified School District, which was told by a lower court that it had violated the student's rights by yanking copies of the school newspaper out of circulation and telling parents that the editorial shouldn't have been published.

The student, Andrew Smith, wrote an editorial in the Novato High School newspaper in November 2001 saying any Latino who couldn't speak English was probably an illegal immigrant and should be taken in for questioning.

After hearing complaints, the principal held an assembly for parents and students, then ordered the remaining issues removed from circulation and sent a letter to parents saying the editorial violated school standards and shouldn't have run.

Smith said he was physically attacked on campus soon afterward. He was not disciplined by the school for the editorial and continued writing for the newspaper. He now attends community college in Santa Rosa, his lawyer said.

His suit sought $1 in nominal damages and a declaration that the school district had violated his rights. A Marin County judge rejected Smith's claims but was overruled May 21 by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

"A school may not prohibit student speech simply because it presents controversial ideas and opponents of the speech are likely to cause disruption," Justice Linda Gemello said in the 3-0 ruling.

The court relied on a 1971 California statute, the nation's first state law to protect free speech in public schools. The law says students are entitled to freedom of speech and of the press unless what they say is obscene or libelous, or creates a "clear and present danger" of lawbreaking or disorder on campus.

Speech that is provocative remains protected, Gemello said, unless the speaker calls for a disturbance, or "the manner of expression (as opposed to the contents of the ideas) is so inflammatory that the speech itself provokes the disturbance."

Gemello said Smith's editorial was written in a "disrespectful and unsophisticated manner" but contained no direct provocation or racial epithets.

The ruling said the California law is a stronger shield for student expression than the constitutional protections recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation's high court has ruled that students have free-speech rights, but has also allowed school officials to remove material they considered inappropriate from student newspapers.

In June, the court upheld the suspension of an Alaska high school student who unfurled a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" outside the school grounds, a message that Chief Justice John Roberts said could be reasonably interpreted as promoting illegal drug use.

"The (U.S.) Supreme Court is moving away from protection of student speech on high school campuses, and the California courts seem to be moving in the opposite direction," said attorney Paul Beard of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented Smith.

The Novato school district argued that the state law wasn't intended to go beyond the federal standard and should be interpreted to let school authorities decide whether a statement is likely to incite disruption.

The appeals court ruling "greatly curtails the ability of school administrators to deal with incidents of violence which may be caused by students exercising their free-speech rights," Dennis Walsh, the district's lawyer, said in court papers.

The case is Smith vs. Novato Unified School District, S154067.


Opinions vary on Orange Unified drug policy

Critics say district's proposed ideas are untested; others say could prevent abuse

By Eric Carpenter, Orange County Register, September 27, 2007

The growing debate over whether randomly testing public-school students for drugs is an effective deterrent against substance abuse reached into Orange this week.

The Orange Unified School District is the latest district considering whether to implement a program that would allow parents to volunteer their children for testing at school.

Five Orange County districts, from Capistrano Unified in the south to Fullerton Joint Union in the north, have voluntary drug screening in place.

The Orange district, which also covers Anaheim Hills and Villa Park, has drafted a policy, but has yet to schedule a date to consider adopting it.

The test results would remain private and the school would not punish students who test positive. Instead, they would be encouraged to participate in assistance programs. If the district adopts a policy, individual high schools and middle schools would determine whether to implement a program based on discussions among the principal, teachers, parents and students.

Tuesday night, the district held a forum to allow debate from experts, parents and students. At least four of seven board members attended and heard widely varying opinions.

Proponents said allowing parents to volunteer their children for testing provides an important tool for ensuring their children stay clear of dangerous drugs. It encourages discussion and shows that parents care.

But just as many critics spoke out, saying it's an unproven method that could bring fear and suspicion into the school environment and could do more harm than good.

“This is a very heated topic, not just here but throughout the nation,” said Bill Beacham, executive director of the Center for Drug-Free Communities.

Beacham said testing can be an effective part of an overall drug-prevention education. Educators can set up expectations, he said, but unless there is “inspection of those expectations,” there's no way to know whether they are being effective.

But Howard Taras, a pediatrician and university professor, said the effectiveness of drug testing is unproven and can lead to unforeseen negative consequences.

He said some students could consider it a challenge to beat the system, they could seek out undetectable drugs and alcohol, and that the tests could lead to conflict between students and parents, exacerbating the underlying problems that lead to drug abuse.

“I don't think any parent would put their child on a pill if it had no proven benefit and it could cause harm,” Taras said. “That's where we are with drug testing.”

The issue came up in the Orange district when parents from Villa Park High School proposed the idea in summer 2006. Some board members expressed immediate reservations about adopting a policy and asked that Tuesday's forum be scheduled, including experts such as Taras, from the UC San Diego School of Medicine, and Rodney Skager, who conducted the first statewide student survey on drug abuse in 1985.

The cost of the program would be minimal. Some districts ask that parents pay for the drug-testing kits. In one case, the cost is $35 per test.

Orange's proposed policy is expected to be placed on a board agenda in coming weeks, said Trustee Kathryn Moffat.

“I have deep concerns about the potential pitfalls,” she said. “The facts often seem cold and distant, but I think we really need to dig down and examine the facts free of emotion and see if this actually would help.”

Other O.C. districts

Capistrano Unified: Expanded its voluntary program to all high schools and middle schools in 2006.

Fullerton Joint Union: Tests 700 district students a year. Voluntary program administered since 1990.

Huntington Beach Union: Edison High School has a voluntary program. Students are tested with a saliva swab and confidential results go to parents. Testing began in 1985.

Laguna Beach Unified: At Laguna Beach High School, parents can volunteer their students to be tested once a month or randomly. Testing began in 2001.

Tustin Unified: Conducts a voluntary program with help from the Assistance League of Tustin, which provides free drug-testing kits to parents. Testing began in 2005.


Online Speech Pits Students vs. Teachers

Pranks Bring Punishment -- and Free Speech Lawsuits

Students disciplined by school officials are challenging the punishments, often in court, citing First Amendment protection

By STEPHANIE DAHLE, ABC News, March 13, 2008

When Avery Doninger, 17, complained on her blog about her school's apparent decision to cancel a student-organized concert, she didn't set out to start a free-speech debate.

The Connecticut high school senior called her school administrators "d*****bags" on her online journal and told other students to e-mail the school superintendent to complain. After the school principal learned of Doninger's crude complaints, she was barred from serving on the student council and from speaking at her upcoming graduation.

Student pranks and gripes are nothing new. But, with the digital world accessible to anyone with a computer, what teenagers say off campus about their schools and teachers has taken on new resonance. Speech that once might have been punished without a second thought is now becoming the subject of First Amendment battles when moved online.

A 2007 report from the Pew Institute said that 55 percent of teens had online profiles on social networking sites. More than a third of schools surveyed in a 2006 National School Boards Association survey said student postings on social networking sites were disruptive to the school's learning environment. Of those, 25 percent said students were creating fake sites for teachers or administrators; 68 percent said students posted inappropriate content.

"The Internet isn't a legal-free zone," said David Hudson Jr., a scholar at the First Amendment Center in Tennessee. "You can defame someone on the Internet just like in a newspaper."

Though no reliable statistics are available, ABC News found several recent cases in which schools punished students for what they published online. In at least one case, school officials initially contemplated filing criminal charges against the students.

"Clearly, kids today have a lot more ways to express themselves than they did even ten years ago," said Kenneth Myers, who represented an Ohio student who sued his school after he was expelled for creating a fake MySpace profile for his principal. "If kids are putting stuff up about themselves, they're going to put it up about teachers and principals."

The 13-year-old student, identified in court papers only as R.O., outraged school officials when he created a fake MySpace page that included the principal's photo – and said that he enjoyed having sex with his students and an assistant principal. "It was a vulgar, terrible disgusting Web page," Myers said. "But these were also 13-year-old kids."

The boy's parents settled the lawsuit after the Parma City School District agreed to reverse the expulsion, erase it from their son's records and allow him to make up his missed schoolwork. The school district declined to comment.

"At this point, the school is no longer involved with this situation," she wrote. "The students have served their suspensions, and any legal action will come from the individual employees."

Students have First Amendment rights but that doesn't necessarily give them the right to say whatever they want online. Courts have allowed schools to restrict student speech under certain circumstances, such as when the speech causes substantial disruption to the school day. The Supreme Court recently dismissed a student's civil rights lawsuit filed after he was suspended for displaying a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner at a school-sanctioned event.

But when the speech takes place on the Internet, it makes the case more complicated, said Hudson, the First Amendment scholar. Hudson emphasized that in order for school districts to punish students for their online activity, the student speech has to be under the school's jurisdiction.

Deciding what speech is under school control is "hazy," because students often create the Web pages at home and not on school grounds. Schools can still argue that false social networking pages cause substantial disruption to the school day or invade the rights of others.

The question of where the speech took place was central to Doninger's case, which is pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. After they discovered her blog post, school officials wouldn't allow Doninger to serve as senior class secretary and speak at graduation. A trial court judge denied Doninger's request for a court order forcing the school to allow her to serve on the school council.

Regional School District 10 Superintendent Alan Beitman said he did not know whether Doninger would be allowed to speak at commencement.

Hudson said that in many cases schools should leave the punishment to parents. "I think expulsion is a bit overkill," he said. "I think that perhaps some instruction on responsible Internet use may be appropriate."


Linden school district limits its searches of students' cell phones

By Deb Kollars , Scaramento Bee, April 18, 2008

In schools across the country, cell phones go on and cell phones get confiscated, often on a daily basis.

Students may lose their beloved phone for the rest of the school day. But they don't expect to lose their privacy.

In a small town east of Stockton, that is what happened to a senior named Justin Tomek at Linden High School last October. Several months later, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California weighed in.

And on Wednesday – with little fanfare – the Linden Unified School District board revised its policy on cell phones to better protect the text messages, photos and other private communications embedded in students' telephones.

For teenagers, such protections are of deep value. Like diaries and letters in the days of old, today's modern cell phones carry thoughts, conversations and images involving best friends, family members and romantic interests. They may be snippets of sentences, but they can be as personal and private as any eloquent journal entry.

"Schools need to understand that just because a student uses a cell phone when he or she is not supposed to doesn't mean the school has a license to go in and read their private messages," said Ann Brick, an ACLU staff attorney in San Francisco who got involved in the Linden situation after learning of Tomek's experience.

"It's like rummaging through their private letters," she said.

For Tomek, a senior who keeps his grades high and is the captain of his baseball team, Oct. 25 did not start out well. He and his mother had a small argument before school. During his P.E. class, he called her on his cell to apologize.

He knew it was against the rules at Linden High to use a cell phone while classes were running. Sure enough, he got caught.

It wasn't until he went to pick up his phone after school that the real surprise hit: He couldn't have his phone back because a teacher had not finished going through his text messages.

His reaction: "I was embarrassed. They were reading my personal information. They read through all of it."

Eventually he retrieved his phone. The situation didn't sit well with his mother, Barbara Tomek. She contacted the ACLU.

On March 3, Brick sent a letter to Linden Unified stating that the board's policy permitting searches of text messages, phone calls and photos on student cell phones was excessively broad and violated the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution's provisions providing privacy for people of all ages.

On Wednesday, the Linden school board tightened its policy to say educators could only read text messages or look at photos on student cell phones if they believe such a search would show a school rule or law was violated. The new policy also limits the scope of such searches.

"We want to be compliant with the law," Linden Superintendent Ronald Estes said Thursday. "We worked it out pretty quickly."

Estes added that the search of Tomek's messages was "a confusing incident" and involved Tomek's best interests. He said he couldn't elaborate.

To students, the thought of adults scrolling through their cell phones is unnerving.

"It's like going in and reading somebody's mail or their e-mail," said Brooke Bischoff, a senior at Bella Vista High in Fair Oaks.

"It's pretty much unspoken with your friends that if you leave your cell phone at somebody's house, they don't go through your text messages," she said.

Cell phone policies vary from district to district. Schools typically ban their use during classes. Some include lunch and passing periods. The policies can keep school officials busy, said Elizabeth Graswich, spokeswoman for the Elk Grove Unified School District.

"Cell phones are very popular," she said. "They are taking cell phones on a daily basis."

Elk Grove, as well as the Grant Joint Union High School District, spell out the bans in their districtwide policies, but unlike Linden Unified, do not formally address whether staff members may read messages or listen to voice mails on confiscated phones.

A school staff member would only do so if there were reason to believe a law was broken, or for health and safety concerns, said Jacques Whitfield, counsel for Grant Joint Union. In such cases, they would look at messages only under consultation with campus security or law enforcement officials, he said.

Craig Murray, principal of Grant High School, said there are good reasons for banning cell phones during classes, including the potential for students to cheat on tests by taking pictures on camera phones and sharing the images.

Disruptions are another worry, Murray said: "The last thing I want to see in a chemistry class is a student saying, 'Excuse me, chemistry teacher. I've gotta take this phone call. Can you hold up the lecture?' "

For Tomek, the cell phone drama has offered a lesson more powerful than any school lecture. He recently finished a review of various interest groups in his government class. Among those he studied – and now has come to know firsthand – is the American Civil Liberties Union.


San Leandro school can't ban church's flyers

By Jill Tucker, San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 2008

San Leandro middle school teacher Gary Healy grabbed the contents of his office mailbox Tuesday morning and found a stack of flyers, with a note telling him to pass them out to his sixth-period students.

The leaflets invited students to attend a religious workshop on a Christian approach to peer pressure - and to bring a Bible if they had one. Otherwise one would be provided.

The handout said the class would include: "The Bible's teaching on Peer Pressure and the only unfailing, permanent, eternal, and immeasurable Power to overcome negative Peer Pressure exert positive Peer Pressure during Middle School years."

Healy, a John Muir Middle School math teacher, was shocked. Didn't such a flyer violate the constitutionally required separation of church and state? Wasn't it illegal to distribute religious materials in a public school, especially during class time?

Nope and nope.

San Leandro school officials learned that the hard way.

Last spring, Pastor Derek Jung of the Fundamental Gospel Baptist Church of San Leandro challenged the district when it refused to distribute a flyer about vacation Bible school.

"I was shocked we were the first church that had ever used their system," Jung said on Tuesday.

Armed with legal advice from the Florida-based Christian Law Association, Jung told the district that if it allowed schools to distribute information for community groups such as the YMCA, 4-H clubs, Boys and Girls Clubs or school fundraising foundations, it could not discriminate against religious organizations.

District lawyers researched the issue - and agreed.

"Since we do allow nonprofit organizations to distribute (at schools), it's all or none," said Robin Michel, district spokeswoman.

When Jung returned this fall with another flyer for last night's Bible-based peer pressure workshop, he met no official opposition.

"We believe the solution (to negative peer pressure) is in the Gospel and in the relationship with Christ," Jung said, who planned to teach the class. "We believe that obviously will not be taught in the school system, but we believe that's the answer."

Jung and his wife, Sharon, founded their church in 1996. They have about 10 members besides their six homeschooled children, the pastor said.

Jung's flyers went home with students Monday and Tuesday.

The copies included an "APPROVED" stamp signed by Cindy Cathey, the district's assistant superintendent of educational services. But the flyer did not include a disclaimer stating the district did not endorse or sponsor the content - a proviso Michel said would definitely be required in the future.

Because recent federal court decisions have found that school districts' distribution policies can't discriminate against religious groups, many districts across the country have grappled with this issue, said Ayesha Khan, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"We are very troubled by the efforts of proselytizing religious groups to access young, vulnerable schoolchildren through a reliance on mandatory attendance laws," Khan said.

But she also said that schools can decide not to distribute handouts for anyone.

"It's permissible for schools to say this is just too thorny," she said. "They can say this is too much trouble, too much time, too much controversy."

Like districts, teachers can't pick and choose which handouts they pass along to kids, Khan said.

Teachers who refuse would not have any constitutional protections, Khan said.

Nevertheless, San Leandro's Healy, unaware of his legal obligations, agonized over the handouts Tuesday afternoon.

"If I give it to my students, doesn't it imply I'm approving it?" he asked. "Because I don't."

He said the lack of a disclaimer and the "APPROVED" stamp concerned him - a problem district officials acknowledged.

At the end of the day, after the final bell rang and his students filed out for the day, the flyers were still in Healy's hands.


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Last modified: March 28, 2008

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