Teacher Accuses High School of Free Speech Censorship Over Article About Student in Adult Entertainment Industry

bear creek high school stockton california adult entertainment industry story student newspaper
A teacher at a California high school accused the school of trying to censor the student newspaper by requiring an article about a student's journey in the adult entertainment industry to be reviewed before publication. Google Maps

A California high school English teacher accused administrators of censoring free speech after the district required a pre-publication review of an article, which chronicled a student's journey in the adult entertainment industry.

The Lodi Unified School District's legal responsibility to ensure the student newspaper didn't violate the education code prompted a request to see a copy of the controversial article. However, Kathi Duffel, an English teacher at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, California, and advisor for The Bruin Voice, accused the school of attempting to squelch the voice of the paper.

"The only message they are sending to students is that if they don't like what you write, they will censor it," Duffel told Newsweek. "I'm fighting for not just my job, but for my students' rights to free speech. Nothing is more important to me."

The Lodi Unified School District told Newsweek it supports its students' freedom of speech rights and denied that it censored or stopped the publication of the paper or any article.

When The Bruin Voice's Bailey Kirkeby contacted the student, Duffel said she was "enthusiastic" about having the chance to set the record straight and dismiss rumors and assumptions her peers made about her. The paper's goal by shedding light on her journey, as described by Duffel, was to help students see the "reality, risks, dangers, and unglamorous side of the adult entertainment industry."

"And maybe this is too much to ask, but Bailey has done such a good job at humanizing the subject so well," Duffel said. "When boys click on sites like Pornhub, maybe they'll remember that on the other side of that screen is a girl who is trying to pay her rent, her utilities, and hopefully find a little bit of joy in a life that has held little so far."

In a letter from Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer, dated April 11, Duffel was informed that if she didn't provide the school with a copy of the article, she could be disciplined and even dismissed. If she didn't comply and litigation arose from the article, she could also be personally liable for any costs and damages.

"I uphold the highest standards of professional journalism and instead of being lauded for doing my job well, I find myself continually threatened with intimidation," Duffel said.

Instead of providing the school with a copy to review, Duffel said an independent attorney will be charged with the task and claimed the story is on "solid legal footing."

"The District agreed on April 18," the school district told Newsweek.
"In addition, Mrs. Duffel acknowledged that the District's concerns raise some interesting points and that the students have more work to do. Regardless of action taken by Mrs. Duffel, the District remains committed to the agreed upon process."

The edition of the paper containing the article is scheduled to be released on May 3 and Duffel intends to submit the article to the National Scholastic Press Association's "Story of the Year" contest.

This article has been updated to include the response from the Lodi Unified School District.