Yearbook should assert its rights to fight senior quote censorship

The Pegasus willingly subjects itself to prior restraint

By Naomi Baron

Around this time of year, seniors may send the The Pegasus, HHS yearbook, their proposed senior quotes to be displayed under their yearbook photo. However, a number of HHS seniors reported having their senior quotes rejected by school administrators. 

These rejections not only violate students’ free speech, but they are based on erroneous applications of the school’s own quote guidelines. 

For example, Senior Ryan Markley said he submitted a quote stating, “Hey ladies” and Francis Jung’s quote read, “I will have to marry rich.” Both were rejected. These are only two of the many rejections. 

Let’s start with the free speech problem. The First Amendment protects Americans from government regulation of our speech. In California, student journalists are afforded this right, as well. California Education Code Section 48907 prohibits “prior restraint” by “school officials.” This means that student publications like The Epitaph or The Pegasus are not required to send their content to the administration before its publication. The Pegasus chooses to voluntarily do so. 

That baffles me. Living in California, we students have heightened free speech protections. California Education Code Section 48907 was the first law of its kind to protect student journalists from administrator censorship. Voluntarily ceding these rights undermines the efforts of those who fought for them — including members of The Epitaph, who in 1988 won a battle (with the assistance of the ACLU and the guidance of our late adviser, Nick Ferentinos) to publish an article in spite of the administration’s desired prior restraint. For that, this paper wonthe Student Press Law Center Freedom Award.”       

To be clear, because The Pegasus voluntarily subjects itself to prior restraint, there is possibly no real ongoing violation by school administrators. But The Pegasus could decide to override the requests of school administration, setting up a legal battle the administration is likely to lose. 

And, in any case, the quotes “hey ladies” and “I will have to marry rich” are not problematic from an objective point of view. The quote guidelines prohibit quotes that are misattributed, include references to drugs, alcohol, include inappropriate material, are offensive, or make sexual or vulgar references, or does not meet the school guidelines, according to an email sent by the deans. Which of these guidelines do the above two quotes violate? None that I can tell. 

If The Pegasus wishes to create their own guidelines and individually review responses, then that right should be respected. But allowing the deans to determine which quotes should be permitted restricts the publication’s fundamental rights and is a step backwards for independent school publications. 

I implore these students, with the help of The Pegasus, to assert their rights and fight the administration’s rejection of these quotes.