FREE PRESS — A California high school principal's confiscation of most copies of a student magazine reporting on the youthful tattoo phenomenon has prompted outrage from student journalists, free speech advocates, and a state lawmaker who says he'll take legislative action.

As noted in a press release from Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo),

Earlier this month, S.K. Johnson, principal of Orange High School in Orange, California, confiscated nearly all 300 copies of a student-produced magazine after he objected to the cover story regarding a growing trend of students getting tattoos after turning 18.  He has refused to allow issues of PULP magazine to be distributed and the students have since recessed for summer break.

“The principal’s actions clearly violate state law,” said Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo).  “Proudly, California has led the way in protecting student speech and press rights.  As the author of several of these laws, I will do all I can to support these students and ensure that administrators stop infringing on the legal rights of their students.”

Last year, Yee successfully passed a law to protect high school and college teachers and other employees from retaliation by administrators as a result of student speech, which most often happens when a journalism advisor or professor is disciplined for content in a student newspaper.  In 2006, Yee passed the law to prohibit censorship or prior restraint of student press by administrators and to protect students from being disciplined for engaging in speech or press activities.

Through the years, California has provided broad protections to student speech activity, only limiting expression which is obscene, libelous, slanderous, or would cause a substantial disruption of the orderly operation of the school.

In the case of Orange High School, the students attempted to publish a magazine that included an illustration on the cover showing a tattoo of the magazine’s name and image of the school mascot.  According to the Student Press Law Center, Johnson told students he felt the cover may encourage students to get tattooed and promote gang activity, although the article did not even mention gangs.

"I really do feel that they're trying to suppress us when all we're trying to do is report on the daily life and general life of our students," said PULP Editor-in-Chief Lynn Lai to the Student Press Law Center.