The California State Assembly approved legislation yesterday that guarantees free-speech rights for students and teachers at charter schools.
Passed by a 51-19 vote, Senate Bill 438 now goes to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will have 12 days to either sign or veto it. The Senate approved their version of the bill in January.
Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, wrote the bill after administrators at the Orange County High School of the Arts claimed their charter school status exempted them from having to follow laws protecting free speech. In September, officials at the Santa Ana charter halted publication of a student newspaper after reading a student report critical of the school's cafeteria management company.
In a statement, Yee said students must have the right to free expression.
It is quite disheartening to hear that taxpayer-funded charter schools think their students do not deserve the same rights as those afforded to students at public and private schools throughout our state. SB 438 will clear up any ambiguity in law and provide much-needed protections.
Last month, the Orange County High School of the Arts fired the faculty advisor for the student newspaper, leading some to accuse the charter administrators of retaliation. School officials denied those charges. They declined to share details about the decision. Yee said yesterday school officials are sending the wrong message to their students and the community.
The Orange County High School of the Arts should be ashamed. These are not the lessons they should be teaching our kids. Rather than supporting student free expression and fostering an open dialogue of ideas, they are teaching values that are contrary to the foundation of our republic.
Jim Ewert, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association applauded the bill.
“The overwhelming passage of SB 438 affirms that existing law protects charter school students’ speech activities and censorship will not be tolerated on any school campus,” he said.