Students’ Freedom of Speech Painted Over: ACLU


A Superior Court Judge  who will decide what types of things La Jolla High school students can write on campus benches has delayed his decision until June 24, reports the La Jolla Light.

The hearing was the first in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against LJHS Principal Dana Shelburne and the San Diego Unified School District on behalf of graduating La Jolla High senior Yumehiko Hoshijima.

The ACLU claims administrators at La Jolla High School illegally whitewashed political messages on school benches. The benches were meant as a free speech forum for students according to the suit.

The issue started in February when two Iranian-American students painted "Freedom for Iran" on the benches during Iran's massive protests.

School administrators blotted out the messages and said only "positive messages" were allowed.

Late last week, the controversy flared up again when Shelburne said he planned to have the benches removed. SDUSD Superintendent, Bill Kowba, blocked the move shortly after it became public.

On Thursday, Judge Jeffrey Barton, citing his desire to “make a correct decision,” noted more time was needed to digest the school district’s submittal just before the hearing of Shelburne’s three-page declaration and a two-page memorandum.

The documents respond to the ACLU contention that the school’s policies “unconstitutionally discriminate against protected student speech based on content or viewpoint.”

Shelburne has said the senior benches are reserved for school-only issues and that a bulletin board near the benches has been set aside as an open forum for non-school-related student expression.

“This is a free speech case,” argued David Blair-Loy, legal director at the San Diego ACLU. “The benches have been dedicated to student speech for decades.”

Noting the three benches in question have been reserved only for “positive messages about the school,” Blair-Loy said, “That is unjust, invalid and void. That rule is — and has always been — unlawful and unenforceable. The school can’t have benches and bulletin boards segregating speech between them.”

The benches are currently serving as a memorial for a former La Jolla High School student shot and killed after he answered a Craigslist ad earlier this month.

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