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ACLU Backs Student Editor

Group says her article on sexual orientation at a Fullerton high school was protected by law.

March 08, 2005|Joel Rubin | Times Staff Writer

Civil rights lawyers have entered the fray over the actions of an Orange County student journalist, urging school district officials to reverse their decision to punish her for an article published in a campus newspaper.

In a strongly worded, three-page letter, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California criticized officials at Troy High School in Fullerton for removing senior Ann Long as editor-in-chief of the Oracle.

Long, 18, was unseated last month after printing an article in which she chronicled the decisions of three students to reveal their homosexuality and bisexuality to family and friends.

"We're asking the school to put Ann back in her position," said Ranjana Natarajah, the ACLU lawyer who sent the letter Monday to Fullerton Joint Union High School Supt. George Giokaris. "None of the justifications the school has given [for punishing Long] fit."

The letter was co-signed by representatives of the California Safe Schools Coalition, the Gay-Straight Alliance and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

School and district officials have offered various reasons for removing Long. They first accused her of violating a state law that prohibits asking students about their sexuality without parents' consent. Officials instead admonished Long for breaking widely held journalist standards and for allegedly ignoring orders from her teacher to obtain permission from the parents mentioned in the article.

Long has repeatedly denied that her teacher instructed her to get the parents' consent.

Natarajah faulted the district for violating a state law that offers broad protection for student journalists and requires school officials to prove that a story is libelous, obscene or will threaten safety before they can interfere.

Natarajah also challenged school officials' assertion that they did not object to Long writing about homosexuality, questioning why they allowed a previous article on pregnant students.

"We fail to see how Ms. Long's article differs materially from the pregnancy article.... If the school punished Ms. Long solely because her article concerned perspectives on sexual orientation with which the school disagrees, that would certainly violate" the law, she wrote.

Giokaris and Deputy Supt. Patricia Howell did not return calls for comment. Marilyn Buchi, a district trustee, declined to comment on Long, but indicated that the letter would not sway the school board: "I think we have concluded that issue."

Long said she had no immediate plans to pursue legal action.

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