Superintendent Michael J. Stuart
2200 Eureka Way Suite B,
Redding, CA 96001
[email protected]

June 23, 2008

Dear Superintendent Michael J. Stuart,

We have been following the controversy involving Principal Woollard’s objections to a recent edition of the student-run school newspaper Shasta High Volcano because of a photo of a student burning an American flag and an editorial defending the right to do so. The threat to censor the article and deny funding to the paper raised serious concerns under the First Amendment and California law.  We are pleased to hear that you have intervened to insure that student speech rights will be respected and commend you for your decision. 

In the landmark case, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), the Supreme Court affirmed that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."  Students’ rights to express opinions on issues of political, social, or cultural import is thus protected as long as they do not interfere with the educational function of the school or substantially disrupt school activities.  See also Guiles v. Marineau (2d Cir. 2006) and Morse v. Frederick (2007). 

In California, student press rights are further protected by California Education Code48907 which explicitly protects student press unless it is obscene, libelous, defamatory, or substantially disruptive.  Thus, state law specifically gives students editorial control over school publications, without resort to First Amendment arguments.  Smith v. Novato Unified, 150 Cal. App. 4th 1439, 1452 (2007).

The issue of the Shasta High Volcano that caused concern contained a photo of a student burning an American flag, which is protected act of political dissent, U.S. v. Eichman (1990).  The paper contextualized the photo as a free speech issue by including an editorial, written by editor-in-chief Connor Kennedy, discussing and defending flag-burning as First Amendment protected free speech.  Principal Woollard’s threat to de-fund the paper not only raised legal questions, but, worse, would have discouraged students from discussing important political issues.  Your decision to maintain the paper’s funding, improve its journalistic standards and allow uncensored publication, promotes not only First Amendment rights and principles, but also sound educational and journalistic practices.

As one federal court expressed it, "The schoolroom prepares children for citizenship, and the proper exercise of the First Amendment is a hallmark of citizenship in our country." Chandler v. McMinnville School Dist., (9th Cir. 1992).  Education in a democratic society requires that schools teach students to understand important social issues and effectively express their opinions.   You have helped fulfill the responsibility of public schools to educate students about core American values such as fairness, equality, justice, respect for others, and the right to dissent. 

We applaud your efforts to continue funding the paper and to teach your students about one of our country’s most fundamental principles: the right to free speech.


Joan Bertin, Executive Director                                 
National Coalition Against Censorship                                                             

Russ Wild, President
American Society of Journalists and Authors

Alexandra Owens, Executive Director          
American Society of Journalists and Authors