FREE PRESS -- The controversy over prior review of student newspaper articles at the
Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA) has sparked debate over whether
charter schools should be exempt from the section of the California Education Code that affords students the right to
freedom of the press, reports Joanna Brenner for the Student Press Law Center.

Dr. Ralph Opacic, president and executive director of OCHSA, released a
public response Sept. 15 stating OCHSA does not have to follow Section 48907 of
California's education code. The response came after Principal Sue
Vaughn and Vice Principal Michael Ciecek withdrew their previously instituted
requirement of prior review for each issue of the paper, Evolution, on
Tuesday.

'State law exempts charter schools from the education code with
limited exceptions pursuant to Education Code Section 47610, also known as the
charter school mega-waiver,' Opacic said. 'Based on that Education
Code section, it is clear that 48907 does not apply to charter
schools.'


Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for California State Senator Leland Yee, said
charter schools should not be exempt from Section 48907 because they receive
government funding and are not different from public schools in terms of their
responsibilities toward students. If Opacic, Vaughn and Ciecek are proactive in
claiming exemption from the code by prior reviewing and trying to alter articles
in future issues of Evolution, Senator Yee is prepared to introduce a
bill clarifying that Section 48907 does indeed apply to charter schools.


Opacic also said OCHSA's policy has always been to review student
publications prior to print 'to ensure they adhere to professional
journalistic standards, including proofing for grammar, style, and factual
accuracy,' according to the Orange County Register. He said
that was why the first issue of the paper was initially delayed a week.


Evolution's adviser, Konnie Krislock, disagrees with prior
review but empathizes with the administration's intentions. 'The
school is extremely important to them and what they want to accomplish with
these special students,' she said.


Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said
while the charter school mega-waiver does not explicitly state that charter
schools are not exempt from Section 48907, there is a difference between
'laws governing school districts' (as stated in Section 47610) and
students' right to free expression.


'The whole concept of a charter school is to obtain freedom from
bureaucratic red tape,' LoMonte said. 'The California Student Free
Expression Law is a grant of rights to students – it is not bureaucratic
red tape. It's different, [for example], from dictating the way the school
buys cafeteria trays.'