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School Board Expels Student for Producing Obscene Publication : Education: Underground newsletter contained attacks on women, racial slurs and sexual vulgarities.

March 19, 1992|BERNICE HIRABAYASHI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEVERLY HILLS — A Beverly Hills High School senior was expelled Tuesday for co-authoring an underground student paper that attacked women, Japanese people and an English teacher using a barrage of four-letter words, racial slurs and sexual vulgarities.

According to a decision handed down by the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education, the 17-year-old student will be allowed to attend the district's continuation school, Moreno High School, which is located on the south end of the main high school campus.

If he meets a string of conditions, including 50 hours of community service and a letter of apology to those targeted in the publication, the student will be allowed to graduate with his fellow classmates and the expulsion will be removed from his school records.

The board's 3-2 decision was based on the opinion that the paper violated sections of the state Education Code dealing with obscenity and disruptiveness. Also, according to the decision, any action other than expulsion would send the wrong message to students.

Before the board made its decision, the student and his attorney, Jeri Okamoto, a media law specialist with the firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, pleaded his case.

The student, who has been on suspension since Feb. 19, said that the paper, called "Wacked," was borne of a desire to express discontent with the administration and discuss other student issues without fear of being censored. The students agreed not to edit each other's stories in any way.

"I'm sorry," the student said. "It was wrong. . . . The way we did the paper up, the meaning was lost. That was our fault, and I'll take the punishment for it."

Okamoto said she believes that her client's First Amendment rights to free speech would be violated by expulsion, and added the law would be behind her if she takes the case to federal court.

The student's parents also appeared, making an emotional plea for a punishment that did not include expulsion.

According to Okamoto, her client was one of four students who produced the five-page, newsletter-style paper. Five additional students submitted letters to the editor. The expelled student has not revealed names of any of the contributors, and none have stepped forward.

A computer was used to lay out the paper and the students pooled their money to print about 200 copies. They planned to hand out the papers off campus, but the expelled student admitted during a six-hour public hearing March 10 that he handed out two or three copies on campus.

Two articles in the paper have generated most of the complaints. One article attacks Japan for its economic gains, but concluded that Americans should compete instead of complain. Another attacks an English teacher for strict policies and frequent absences.

Other articles target the women's movement, students who dress like gang members and girls who dress provocatively. One article provides instructions on how to consume mescaline, a hallucinogenic drug.

The stories are filled with racial slurs, profanity and sexism.

School board member Lillian Raffel defended the students' right to publish an underground paper, but was dismayed by its contents.

"If these kids had removed all the obscenities and the maligning of the teacher, it probably would have been all right. It also would have been only one page long."

When all was said and done, the board voted to expel the student, with AJ Willmer and Richard Stone dissenting.

"This is an institution of learning," said School Board President Dana Tomarken. "We must create a positive environment that's free of racial slurs, intolerance and attacks."

According to the conditions, the student must write an article addressing racism, sexism and intolerance for publication in the official school paper, "Highlights." He must undergo counseling and maintain good behavior. In return, he can take math classes on the main campus and will be allowed to participate in senior activities, including the prom.

Okamoto said she would appeal the decision with the Los Angeles County Board of Education, and is negotiating with the district to substitute a home-teaching program in place of continuation school. She said her client will move ahead to meet all the conditions set by the district.

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