L.A. journalism advisor faces discipline after refusing to edit story

In November, the student-run news website at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School in Lake Balboa published a story naming a faculty member who had refused to comply with the district’s COVID-19 immunization mandate.

The article from the Pearl Post — an award-winning student publication at a school named after a murdered US journalist — was well reported, accurate and important to the school community, said the students and First Amendment experts. But it has led to a battle over censorship as the Los Angeles Unified School District seeks to take disciplinary action against the students’ journalism advisor.

“In LAUSD, about 240 teachers chose not to be vaccinated, resulting in not showing up for school on October 18,” the Post reported. “Among them was teacher and librarian Greta Enszer from Daniel Pearl Magnet High School.”

The absence left the school library closed until a replacement could be found.

In December, Enszer asked Post consultant Adriana Chavira, a former journalist, to remove her name from the story, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which prevents medical professionals from sharing medical records without their consent to disclose.

The students who control the Post’s editorial content contacted the Student Press Law Center and were informed by an attorney that they had the right to keep Enszer’s name in the story; it was newsworthy, accurate and timely. Post employees, who said no one from the district had given them names of unvaccinated employees, told Enszer they would not remove their name.

In the months that followed, Chavira, who had taught at Pearl Magnet High for 14 years, steadfastly refused to remove Enszer’s name from the article. Last week she was handed a three-day unpaid suspension.

“It’s definitely frustrating and disappointing,” Chavira, who is appealing the suspension, said Tuesday, her voice shaking. “I love journalism. I like the work I do. i love school I mean, I couldn’t imagine training anywhere else.”

Delilah Brumer, editor-in-chief of the Pearl Post, said Chavira briefed her students on the situation and they knew she could be suspended if they refused to change the story.

“We had to make the decision whether to go [the name] or not,” said Brumer, a senior.

“She left it to us.”

But the reporting is accurate, newsworthy and important, Brumer said, and the story remains unchanged.

“We will not be intimidated by them,” Brumer said, although she added that the situation had been “mentally exhausting.”

In an email sent in February, Principal Armen Petrossian “directed” Chavira to “remove all confidential information identifying the former librarian of DPMHS,” adding that failure to do so could result in disciplinary action.

In March, Chavira District sent a letter noting that a HIPAA complaint filed against her by the librarian was being investigated and “could not be upheld.”

But at a meeting between Petrossian and Chavira in April, attended by a district staffer and a union representative, the school principal again claimed that Chavira had disclosed confidential staff information.

Chavira said a United Teachers Los Angeles representative warned her that if she didn’t clear Enszer’s name, management could bring her into disobedience.

“I said I’m not removing anything,” Chavira said. “Of course, that didn’t go over well.”

She has shown no interest in changing her position.

“The district seems determined to suspend me,” Chavira said. “I could come back after those three days and if the information is still on the site, they could fire me.”

A spokesman for LA Unified said in a statement that county officials “are unable to address ongoing human resources matters” but “will continue to support our students and their journalistic efforts at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School while respecting the concerns of our school community.” “. The district declined to answer any further questions.

On Tuesday, the Pearl Post ran an article about Chavira’s suspension, as well as an editorial headlined, “You don’t respect us as student journalists.”

“In California, student journalists are granted many of the same rights as professional journalists under California Ed Code 48907,” the Post wrote in its editorial. “These rights mean that the district has no authority to retaliate against our advisor or to censor the content we cover.”

This portion of California’s Education Act provides some of the strongest protections for student journalists and their advisors from administrative censorship in the United States.

“Students in public schools, including charter schools, have the right to freedom of speech and the press…regardless of whether the publications or other means of expression are supported financially by the school or through the use of school facilities,” the section reads.

It also specifically protects employees from dismissal, suspension, disciplinary action, reassignment, transfer, or retaliation for protecting student speech or “refusing to violate student rights under the First Amendment.”

“The law is clear. The law gives students the power to make their own editorial decisions,” said Hadar Harris, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “Nothing they put into this story was unlawful or would cross the line of good journalism.

“The irony of this happening to a journalism advisor at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School, where the school’s mission is to promote free speech and journalism in students, is startling,” Harris said.

The Pearl Post was named the best high school newspaper in 2019 by the Los Angeles Press Club, and the school is named after Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and killed by al-Qaeda extremists while reporting for the Wall Street Journal in Pakistan in 2002 .

Even Chavira does not escape the irony of the situation.

“The whole focus of the school is to teach students journalism and communication,” she said. “The administration does not support the student press. They must be somewhere else because it’s not the school for them.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-08/los-angeles-daniel-pearl-high-school-journalism-advisor-faces-suspension L.A. journalism advisor faces discipline after refusing to edit story

Alley Einstein

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