The Orange County Press Club has signed on to the following joint action letter:
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) in solidarity with a coalition of Southern California and national journalism organizations are calling on a California high school principal to immediately drop disciplinary action taken against teacher Adriana Chavira, a respected journalism mentor and NAHJ’s Academic At-Large Officer, for refusing to censor her students’ reporting.
The students at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in the San Fernando Valley wrote a story published last fall about mandatory vaccinations for public school teachers. They named a teacher-librarian at their school who didn’t want to be vaccinated and didn’t show up for work.
The librarian asked Chavira to remove her name from the story. Chavira declined. Students aren’t bound by federal HIPAA or by confidentiality/privacy laws to remove the librarian’s name. The story is factual, and Chavira has supported the students and their First Amendment right to name the teacher-librarian. California’s education code also upholds their right to exercise their freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
In response, Pearl High Principal Armen Petrossian notified Chavira last Thursday that she will be subject to a three-day, unpaid suspension. Chavira is appealing the action. The issue of censorship isn’t unique to Daniel Pearl High School. Over the years, attempts to censor student newspapers and punish educators who serve as news advisors have become far too common, mirroring the challenges facing journalists nationwide.
“The fear of repercussions from authorities can often cause emerging journalists to self-censor, producing a media landscape dominated by commentary and social media feeds rather than news stories that hold those in power to account,” said Yvette Cabrera, NAHJ President. “Adriana Chavira has years of experience working with students to create journalism that matters. She is an invaluable resource to our next generation of journalists and a vital member of the NAHJ Board. She has our full support.”
High school is a foundational period in a student’s educational development. Attitudes toward democracy and how to engage in civil disagreement are forged within a school’s walls, and students should be nurtured and encouraged to become active, engaged and responsible citizens. Principal Petrossian’s actions work contrary to this by attempting to silence the voices of student journalists and obstruct them from freely reporting a matter of public concern to their school community.
A 2022 Knight Foundation report on the First Amendment revealed that nearly 40% of high school students have not taken a single class on the First Amendment, despite its importance to all citizens, not just journalists. The report also found that while a majority of high school students believe that the First Amendment protects them personally, “they are far less likely to feel the protection of these rights than are college students, teachers and adults in America.”
The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists also expressed its support for Chavira, and condemned Petrossian’s handling of the matter.
“SPJ/LA stands with our colleagues in the professional journalism community in protesting Daniel Pearl Magnet High School’s treatment of student newspaper adviser Adriana Chavira,” said Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, president of SPJ/LA. “The administration’s conduct dishonors the man for whom the school is named, a journalist who literally gave his life to the cause of informing his readers and reporting the truth. We urge them to reconsider their actions, and instead reaffirm their support for their faculty member and for robust, independent student journalism.”
Other Southern California and national journalism organizations also spoke up in defense of Chavira.
“High school journalism advisors train the next generation of journalists, and they should not be penalized for defending their students’ First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of the press,” said journalism professor Sharyn Obsatz, co-organizer of the Online News Association Los Angeles group.
Our organizations applaud Chavira’s commitment to the First Amendment and her students, and urge Principal Petrossian to do the right thing: rescind the suspension. We also call on the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest public school district in the country, to ensure that its administrators abide by the state education code and the Constitution to guarantee the rights of student journalists are protected.
Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
National Press Photographers Association
Online News Association Los Angeles
Orange County Press Club
Radio Television Digital News Association