Federal judicial decree states that each school may “establish reasonable time, place and manner regulations regarding oral and/or written expression of ideas.” LJHS has clearly established that non-campus related student expression belongs on the bulletin boards located adjacent to the benches.
The school also states that all written matter should identify the student group responsible for the posting, as well as display the date of posting. The students of the Persian Club — who were responsible for the postings — violated all of these rules and should not attack the removal as an infringement upon their rights.
According to the LJHS Student Behavior Contract that each student must read and sign during registration, the school has every right to set free speech parameters.
Students have the right to not sign the contract, but this will forfeit their right to attend La Jolla High School.
It is important that the school takes these cautionary measures to ban controversial politics so that students feel safe from any aggressive political behavior or strongly opposing opinions. By removing the postings, school officials were merely following the established rules and promoting a non-hostile learning environment for students.
Messages Shouldn’t Be Dismissed
The latest controversy to occur in our neighborhood comes from La Jolla High School, where the administration censored the messages “Freedom for Iran” and “Down with Dictator” that students painted on a bench.
The ACLU is suing the San Diego Union School District, demanding that it surrender its authority to eradicate any message it deems too inappropriate, as this violates the students’ right to be heard. ACLU activism aside, this is a prime educational opportunity.
If students care enough to paint these opinions, the administration has the obligation to utilize the students’ freedom of expression as an opportunity to teach.
According to the LHJS conduct code, the senior benches are intended for messages of school spirit and birthday wishes. Because of these established rules and federal law, the school is within its rights to censor the benches. But some impassioned students wanted their impact to extend beyond peppy school-spirited messages. These attempts at peer education shouldn’t simply be eradicated when they obviously concern an issue that students care about. Yasamin Elahi, the senior who painted the messages, said, “I never did any of this to get attention or hurt my school… I wrote the messages so kids would realize that there is a lot going on outside the world [of] La Jolla that they live in.”
The benches could have easily highlighted the controversy and provided an ideal point to start a real discussion about current events. When students so publicly displayed their need to show their peers what’s happening outside of campus halls, the administration at LJHS should have taken advantage of the opportunity to educate.
Latest Lawsuit is a Wrong Move
The American Civil Liberties Union has once again gone too far by suing a school for upholding its rules regarding political expression. As important as it is to preserve our rights and liberties, it is also essential not to be overly accusatory when it comes to pointing out free speech violations.
At La Jolla High School, students painted messages criticizing the Iranian government on school benches, which were quickly removed by administrators. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last Monday against the school district, fighting for the messages to remain painted on the benches.
This isn’t the first time the ACLU has been the subject of controversy. In the past, the organization defended groups such as North American Man/Boy Love Association, a pedophile advocacy group, as well as a church group that picketed military funerals with inflammatory signs. The ACLU defends so many questionably appropriate free speech cases that it is hard to take this recent case seriously.
The group’s most recent claim that Principal Dana Shelburne’s decision to remove the political messages violates students’ free speech is outright misguided. In cases such as Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986), the Supreme Court has clearly established that school officials can stifle student speech if it violates school rules.
According to the La Jolla High School’s code of conduct, the school’s “senior benches” are designed for non-political purposes, while other spaces on campus available to voice political opinions. And as long as there are specific places for political expression at the school, there’s little chance the ACLU will win its newest lawsuit.
— Arik Burakovsky