Fallbrook High Earns an “F” in Free Speech, ACLU Says in Suit

SAN DIEGO – Fallbrook High School and the Fallbrook Union High School District violated the fundamental free speech rights of students and faculty when the school’s principal censored the school newspaper, The Tomahawk, canceled the journalism class, terminated the newspaper’s publication, and removed the newspaper’s faculty advisor, the ACLU and Bostwick & Jassy LLP charged in a complaint filed today in Superior Court.

The complaint calls for restoration of the journalism class and of the faculty advisor, Dave Evans, and a court order prohibiting school or district officials from censoring future publication of the censored materials. The complaint was filed only after the District rebuffed attempts to resolve the issues without litigation.

In November 2007, a Fallbrook High School (FHS) senior, Chantal Ariosta, wrote an article for The Tomahawk questioning the alleged refusal of a former Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD) superintendent to comply with a request from the fire marshal to close the school for use as an evacuation center during the October 2007 wildfires. FHS principal Rod King reviewed a draft copy of the newspaper before it went to print and ordered the article to be removed despite the strong objections of Evans as the newspaper’s advisor.

Similarly, in May 2008, Tomahawk editors Margaret Dupes and Daniela Rogulj wrote an editorial in response to a school assembly promoting abstinence-only sex education. King also pulled this piece, telling Evans he felt “uncomfortable” with the editorial. King then abruptly canceled the journalism class and removed Evans as faculty advisor one day after Evans alerted the school board president to King’s illegal censorship.

The First Amendment and California law protected Evans’s right to speak to the school board president. In addition to the state and federal constitutions, California’s Education Code guarantees freedom of speech and press to student journalists and editors.

“Fallbrook school officials should move swiftly to restore the journalism program,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “The principal had no right to censor the article or the editorial, and he unfairly penalized all students by canceling the journalism class in retaliation against Evans for blowing the whistle on his illegal conduct.”

“As citizens and parents, we rely on our high schools to teach certain core values, such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. What the school did here was the opposite,” according to co-counselor Jean-Paul Jassy, partner at Bostwick & Jassy LLP. “It stripped students of their rights and punished a brave teacher who came to their defense. That is shameful bullying.”

Bostwick & Jassy was alerted to the case by the attorney referral network of the Student Press Law Center.

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Read the North County Times Editorial on the Lawsuit


Read the Complaint