Stockton Student Journalists Say They are Fighting Back Against District’s Censorship

Update: The Lodi Unified School District released the following statement Wednesday:

The District has determined that it will rely on the promises Mrs. Duffel’s personal attorney has made on her behalf regarding the content of the article and on that basis will not prevent its publication. However, the District does not agree with all aspects of the legal opinion provided by the attorney and is disappointed that an independent review was not provided as agreed to by the District and Mrs. Duffel. Moreover, because the District has been denied an opportunity to preview the article, the District does not endorse it. Because we are charged with the education and care of our community’s children, we will always be diligent in our efforts to provide a safe learning environment for all students, while complying with our obligations under the law.

STOCKTON -- A Stockton journalism teacher and her students say they are fighting for their voices to be heard.

What Bear Creek High School journalism students say they write about is not just for fun or practice. They say their stories help shine a light on real-life issues.

"If you try to silence students and their voice, they're going to fight back," said student editor Bailey Kirkeby.

Now, teenage journalists with the school’s newspaper, The Bruin Voice, are fighting to publish an article about an 18-year-old student who depends on the adult industry to make a living.

"I feel like this story really highlights this student's journey and how exactly she got to where she is," Kirkeby told FOX40.

"Story of a girl who is working legally, in a legal field, and she has every right to have her story told, and my students have every right to tell her story," said the high school's journalism adviser, Kathi Duffel.

Duffel said the Lodi Unified School District’s superintendent sent her a letter citing California law and demanding to read the article by the next day. The letter claims the student-written article may be "obscene."

The district also sent FOX40 a statement that says they support the rights that students have to freedom of speech and are working with the teacher to make sure the article does not violate any education code:

Lodi Unified School District supports the rights our students have to freedom of speech. We are working cooperatively with the teacher who oversees the Bear Creek High School student newspaper to ensure that publication does not violate Education Code Section 48907, which requires the District to prevent the publication of obscenity, defamation, and incitement, and prohibits the publication of content that fails to meet the professional standards of English and journalism.

"I was very surprised at the reaction, especially since the district was very threatening when they contacted us," Kirkeby told FOX40.

The superintendent closed the letter stating Duffel’s job may be on the line.

"The district will have to answer for their attempt to silence. They must follow the law," Duffel said.

But Duffel and her students say the law is on their side. They're now represented by an attorney who is fighting for the story to be heard.

"This is merely just them trying to prohibit us from free speech," Kirkeby said.

For now, the district and the students have reached a compromise. They’re letting an attorney read the story before it’s published.

The teacher says they plan to publish the article in May.

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