California school newspaper publishes story on porn worker after free speech battle

/ CBS/AP

Stockton, Calif. — A school newspaper has published a story about an 18-year-old high school senior who works in the porn industry, following a tense battle over freedom of speech. The story, titled, "Risky business: starting a career in the adult entertainment industry," was published in the Bear Creek High School paper, The Bruin Voice, on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Lodi Unified School District in Central California said earlier this week the district would allow the article's publication, CBS Sacramento reported. The paper's adviser, English teacher Kathi Duffel, had accused district officials of censorship after they demanded to review and approve the article before publication.

In an April 11 letter, district Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer warned of possible discipline, "up to and including dismissal" if Duffel refused.

Kathi Duffel CBS Sacramento

Duffel did refuse, on free speech grounds, and officials in the San Joaquin Valley district, which has about 31,500 students, agreed to let an attorney review the story. Matthew Cate, who represents Duffel and the student who wrote the article, concluded the story didn't violate education codes.

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A lawyer for the district, Paul Gant, wrote to Cate Wednesday to say the district wouldn't prevent publication of the story. But Gant also called Duffel insubordinate for refusing to submit the article for review, and said, "There is no question that the article could be lawfully reviewed or censored," the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"Because the district has been denied an opportunity to preview the article, the district does not endorse it," the district said in a statement. "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."

The article profiles a student who sells erotic photographs, is a verified member of Pornhub and has signed with an agency "so she is able to partake in professional pornographic scenes."

Duffel had told the San Francisco Chronicle the article doesn't glamorize pornography, but it "will help students think more critically about the choices they do make at this age in their lives."

The student who was interviewed said she wanted to dispel rumors. "I'm 18, what I'm doing is legal, and I don't see why everyone is making such a big deal out of it," Caitlin Fink said.

Bruin Voice news editor Bailey Kirkeby wrote the article. "I am very proud of the story and how it turned out," she told the Chronicle.

California law ensures that the First Amendment applies to student journalists. It prohibits prior restraint of school newspaper stories unless they are obscene, libelous or slanderous or incite unlawful acts or school disruptions.

Duffel's students "are getting a front-row seat to our government in action," she told the Chronicle. "What better way to teach the value of the First Amendment than by teaching them firsthand not to have their voices silenced?"

Duffel has relied on the law before to block censorship attempts over her nearly three decades advising the Bruin Voice. For example, in 2013, the principal at the time confiscated 1,700 copies of the newspaper when students exposed inaccuracies in the school safety handbook.

First published on May 3, 2019 / 12:29 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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