Muzzling Troy

Troy High School in Fullerton has a lot going for it. The combined public and magnet school is known for its high SAT scores, Troy Tech and International Baccalaureate programs, its wins or high placements in the U.S. National Science Olympiad and Western Regional Science Bowl sponsored by NASA/JPL, and recognitions for being among the nation's top schools from President Clinton, the National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence panel and the selection committee for California Distinguished Schools.

But now Troy finds itself on another list, one that also includes President Bush, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the Florida Supreme Court: Troy High is a recipient of a 2006 Jefferson Muzzle from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

Wonder if that will wind up in the school lobby's trophy case?

Don't count on it. For the past 15 years, the Thomas Jefferson Center has awarded more than 150 Jefferson Muzzles to those who threaten free expression. Troy as well as Wellington High School in Florida and Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee (where the Oak Ridge Boys were once named Most Likely Graduates to Succeed, we're guessing) nabbed the award "for showing little appreciation for First Amendment principles in actions taken against their respective student newspapers because of the provocative content of the newspapers' articles. At two of the schools, newspapers were confiscated after distribution and, at the third, the student editor was removed from her post."

The latter citation would concern 18-year-old Ann Long, who as co-editor of the student Oracle wrote about two bisexual students and one gay student in an attempt to raise the tolerance level at her school by showing how difficult it was for them to get through each day. Troy administrators not only did not tolerate Long's article, they removed her from the newspaper staff.

Long told Los Angeles Times media writer David Shaw that she had the permission of the students to use their names. Shaw said he "read her story and it was sensitively done." But Troy officials maintain that Long violated the state Education Code by failing to get parental permission to discuss the kids' sexual orientation. As Shaw so eloquently pointed out, that law was not written to censor the freedom of the student press; it's meant to keep public schools from probing their students through any "test, questionnaire, survey or examination containing any questions about the pupil's personal beliefs or practices in sex, family life, morality, and religion" without the written permission of a student's parent or guardian.

(School districts just LOVE to twist the law to achieve their ends. Many times while covering public school boards in a past life, we'd watch public school boards go into closed session and justify talking about delicate matters away from the public's ears because California's Ralph M. Brown Act open meeting law "prevented" them from discussing personnel or land negotiations in public. That's NOT what the law says. Anything on the agenda--or not on the agenda--CAN and SHOULD be discussed in the open, the act says, but personnel and land negotiations MAY BE discussed behind closed doors. Of course, those rat bastards on school boards will go ahead and say ANYTHING is personnel related.)

Troy can argue that it is now in fine, dubious company, as you'll discover here.


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