By Dave Schwab
Superior Court today ordered a preliminary injunction restraining La Jolla High School from enforcing an existing policy prohibiting three senior benches on campus from being painted by students with messages unrelated to school or school functions.
The order was issued in the case of Yumehiko Hoshijima v. Dana Shelburne, La Jolla High School principal.
A graduating La Jolla High senior, Hoshijima has secured the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in legally challenging Shelburne’s stance that senior benches are reserved for positive school-only messages, in lieu of a bulletin board near the benches set aside as an open forum for non-school-related student expression.
"The stipulated preliminary injunction signed by Judge Jeffrey B. Barton represents an important victory in the fight for freedom of speech at the LJHS Campus,” said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the San Diego ACLU. “Now that the censorship is halted, we can move forward to resolve the case.”
The ACLU petitioned the court for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to stop Shelburne from continuing to censor the benches. The judge’s order also specifies that no disciplinary action should be taken against the students.
The ACLU is arguing in court that “positive” is vague and that “segregating” student expression constitutes “unconstitutional discrimination against protected student speech based on content or viewpoint.”
The bench controversy stems back to a Feb. 15 incident in which school officials painted out messages urging support for freedom in Iran that had been put there by Iranian-American students. The messages, painted by members of the school’s Persian Club, were covered in white paint after Shelburne deemed them to be inappropriate for the benches.
A couple of days later other students painted a similar but slightly different message on the benches: “Freedom for Iran and LJHS,” which, too, was whited-out.
Recently, the controversy flared up again when Shelburne said he planned to have the benches removed. Supt. Bill Kowba blocked the move shortly after it became public saying the benches would remain up until the lawsuit is settled.
The court order allowing free speech on the senior benches nonetheless prohibits language that is “obscene, libelous or slanderous,” or “so incites pupils as to create a clear and present danger of the commission of unlawful acts on school premises or the violation of lawful school regulations, or the substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.”