FAC, allies push back on punishment of teacher who defended students’ press freedom

“Hitler’s got some good ideas.”

It’s not the kind of comment you usually hear — or want to hear — in a high school classroom, but the fact is a student said it during a government class at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento. Perhaps the comment was made to get attention or be thought-provoking, or perhaps the student was just trolling the teacher. Perhaps the student believed it. In any event, the comment was included in a roundup in the school newspaper, The Prospector, that publishes statements by students overheard on campus.

The publication of the comment stirred controversy. The faculty advisor for the paper, Samantha Archuleta, spoke to the Sacramento Bee and defended the student editors’ right to publish the comment.

The next day, Archuleta was put on administrative leave and told she was under investigation.

Today, FAC, the ACLU of Northern California, Student Law Press Center, and California Scholastic Journalism Initiative sent a letter to Lisa Allen, Superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District, protesting the district’s retaliation against Archuleta for protecting her students’ right to press freedom. The letter notes that California’s Education Code guarantees that students retain editorial control over student newspapers, and that teachers are protected from retaliation for defending those rights. The letter also notes that Archuleta’s First Amendment rights were violated when she was put on leave after she defended the students’ rights to publish the comment.

The school’s administrators could have used this incident to spark dialogue: about the Holocaust, the First Amendment, press freedom and a myriad of other issues. But instead of having conversations that challenge students to think critically about controversial comments, they’ve taken a path that punishes the teacher who was doing right by her students.

A bit of irony: this incident occurred at C.K. McClatchy High School, whose namesake, Charles Kenny McClatchy, was the longtime editor of the Sacramento Bee, a founder of McClatchy Newspapers, and a stalwart defender of editorial freedom.

FAC doesn’t agree with the student’s comment, but we wholeheartedly support Archuleta and the student journalists who thoughtfully decided to publish it. Young people learn when they are challenged to think for themselves and form their own opinions. We hope the district will reverse course and reinstate Archuleta, and perhaps send McClatchy’s administrators back to school for some remedial lessons in freedom of speech.