High school newspaper battles with district over story about student in adult entertainment industry

Journalism students fight school censorship

STOCKTON, CA (KOVR/CNN) – A California journalism class is getting some real-world experience with controversy – and, some say, censorship.

A student in the class is working on a story about an 18-year-old student who supports herself in the adult entertainment industry. The article in the school’s newspaper, The Bruin Voice, is set to be published and distributed on May 3.

But the school district’s superintendent said the article may be obscene.

“When you are on the side of free speech, you will never lose," said Kathi Duffel, the journalism teacher who runs the student newspaper at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, CA.

Student reporter Bailey Kirkeby is writing the story about an 18-year-old student who performs in the adult entertainment industry to help pay for rent and other expenses.

“I think a lot of people just assume that she’s just ‘the porn star,’ but the story is actually giving her a personality,” Kirkeby said.

Duffel could lose her job over the article. A letter from the district said she could be dismissed if a copy of the story isn’t provided before publication.

"I opened it up and read it in front of [Kirkeby] and then I cried," Duffel said.

Those tears turned into defiance and frustration after talking with attorneys.

"We believe that this student has every right to tell her story legally, and that we have every legal right to tell it," Duffel said.

Lodi Unified School District officials said they can legally intervene with the publication.

They said in a statement that, “The district is legally required to ensure that publications do not violate Education Code Section 48907. This law requires districts to prevent publication of obscenity, defamation and incitement.”

“Their intimidation tactics, which we’ve all seen at this point, should not scare her away from defending herself,” said Gabriella Backus, the editor in chief of The Bruin Voice.

Duffel said the story contains nothing obscene, and that it gives a voice to someone who has been the target of criticism and rumors.

"Our students are the watchdog of our administration, and I want our administration to know that we are watching and they will be held accountable," Duffel said.

The district and the journalism students have reached an agreement: An independent attorney will review the story before it’s published in May.

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