Lawsuit between school district and ACLU on student free speech at La Jolla High settled


Fox 5 KSWB News and Light staff reports

Eight months after a Superior Court judge ordered a preliminary injunction restraining La Jolla High School (LJHS) officials from limiting messages that can be painted on three senior benches on campus, a lawsuit between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) over student free speech has been settled, the ACLU announced Thursday.

As part of the settlement, the San Diego Unified School District does not admit wrongdoing. It is, however, rewriting its student speech policy. Students also no longer have to get permission to put messages on the benches.

“The whole point is, schools are supposed to be our laboratories of democracy,” said David Loy from the ACLU. “The schools are supposed to respect people’s opinions and free speech.”

School officials said they were pleased with the settlement, adding most of the changes have already been implemented.

The June 2011 court order was issued in the case of Yumehiko Hoshijima v. Dana Shelburne, La Jolla High School principal. A graduating La Jolla High senior, Hoshijima secured the ACLU’s aid in a legal challenge to Shelburne’s stance that the benches are reserved for positive, school-only messages and that a nearby bulletin board should be used instead as an open forum for non-school-related student expression.

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,” remains prohibited on the benches or elsewhere on public school property.

The bench controversy stemmed from a Feb. 15, 2011 incident in which school officials painted out messages urging support for freedom in Iran that had been put there by members of the school’s Persian Club. The messages were covered in white paint after Shelburne deemed them to be inappropriate.

A couple of days later other students painted “Freedom for Iran and LJHS,” on the benches which, too, was whited-out.

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 was settled.