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Bill protecting Calif. journalism teachers signed into law

By The Associated Press,
First Amendment Center Online staff

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Administrators will be prohibited from retaliating against high school and college journalism instructors under a bill signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The bill (S.B. 1370) by Sen. Leland Yee makes it illegal to dismiss, transfer or discipline teachers or other school employees for protecting students’ free-speech rights.

The California Newspaper Publishers Association says teachers have been punished at least 12 times since 2001 because of stories or opinion pieces written by student reporters.

“Since administrators are unable by law to exercise prior restraint with regard to a student publication, they lean on advisers to do what they legally cannot,” said Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the CNPA, in a news release. “When advisers refuse, they are punished because administrators know they will face no legal consequences. S.B. 1370 was necessary to close this gaping loophole in the law.”

Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, says the new law benefits not only instructors, but also their students.

“While this law makes the workplace safer for teachers, the real beneficiaries are California’s students, who no longer must fear that honest reporting on school events will get their favorite teacher fired,” LoMonte said in a news release. “Governor Schwarzenegger and the California legislature should be commended for sending a message to school officials — in California and across the nation — that teachers are not to be used as pawns to intimidate kids into avoiding legitimate topics of discussion.”

The bill by Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, would allow administrators to remove journalism advisers for poor performance.

Yee says the bill, which Schwarzenegger signed Sept. 28, shows the state’s commitment to protecting freedom of the press on campuses.

“Allowing a school administration to censor in any way is contrary to the democratic process and the ability of a student newspaper to serve as the watchdog and bring sunshine to the actions of school administrators,” Yee said in a press release.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2009.

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