La Jolla High School Principal Orders Senior Benches Be Removed

UPDATE: After the ACLU issued the following press release, the School District agreed to order Principal Shelburne not to remove the benches prior to next week’s court hearing.

In a rash act of administrative arrogance, the Principal of La Jolla High School (LJHS) Dana Shelburne revealed that he intends to remove the “senior benches” from the LJHS campus as early as Tuesday, the ACLU learned today. The senior benches have been a cherished tradition of the LJHS community for decades and a forum for a wide variety of student speech. When Shelburne censored protected political speech in praise of pro-democracy demonstrators painted on the benches in February, the ACLU intervened, attempting to resolve the matter without litigation but ultimately having to sue. (Our press release can be found here.)

The principal’s threatened removal of the benches comes despite a hearing on Thursday of next week to request a temporary restraining order against further censorship of the benches. Shelburne’s actions appear to be in retaliation for the student speech and lawsuit and demonstrate hostility to the state’s free speech protections, which most other high schools in the state have been able to manage responsibly. Those state law provisions protect student speech that is not “obscene, libelous, or slanderous.”

“This is unconscionable,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director at the San Diego ACLU. “The proper way to resolve these issues is in court, not with a bulldozer. California has landmark law protecting student speech that has worked well for decades.”

The San Diego ACLU will be asking the court Tuesday morning to halt the removal.