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California eyes new free-speech protections in schools

A bill seeks to protect teacher advisers when student newspapers anger administrators.

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Eleven-year teaching veteran Teri Hu was adviser to The Voice, the student newspaper of Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., when school administrators told her not to let it publish a story critical of school policies on teaching assistants. Two months after she refused, Ms. Hu became "former" adviser to The Voice.

Janet Ewell, a tenured teacher in Garden Grove, was enjoying the praise in her 2002 school evaluation until she came to the part about her performance as advisor to journalism students. "[The principal] let me know he didn't like three student editorials, one about school bathrooms, one about the cafeteria and one about teachers who are not available to help students," recalls Ms. Ewell. "Then he told me I wouldn't be advising them the next fall."

Scenarios like those above occurring in schools across California have prompted the state to take the national lead again in protecting free speech rights on campuses. Two years ago, the state was the first to pass a bill preventing college administrators from censoring student newspapers.

Now, legislation is moving forward to protect both high school and college faculty advisers from being punished by administrators for students' articles or editorials.

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