The Alhambra Unified School District is investigating allegations that Jim Schofield, principal of San Gabriel High School, had barred the campus newspaper from publishing articles regarding a dismissed teacher. This action was prompted by The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which had threatened a lawsuit on June 2 in a letter sent to the school district. In the letter, the ACLU said that Schofield’s alleged actions were a violation of First Amendment rights.
Andrew Nguyen, a first year English teacher at San Gabriel High School, was not offered a contract for the 2015-2016 school year. The district has not made public the reason for his dismissal, which has led students to speak in protest. Members from The Matador, SGHS's campus newspaper, claimed that principal Schofield requested that all articles about Nguyen be submitted to him for review before publication. He later demanded that the newspaper not publish any articles involving specifics about Nguyen’s dismissal, according to The Matador.
In the letter to the district, ACLU Legal Director Peter Eliasberg wrote: “In light of the serious nature of these possible legal violations, I urge you to conduct a fair and unbiased investigation of these incidents — not one designed to protect and exonerate the district and its officials.”
He added that Schofield’s actions were a direct violation of California Education Code § 48907. The code bars school officials from censoring campus newspapers, unless the material is obscene, libelous, or slanderous. Eliasberg said he expected the district to respond with a course of action by June 12, or else “the school and the district will be subject to a lawsuit that it would likely lose.”
In an undated statement posted on the AUSD website, Superintendent Laura Tellez-Gagliano said that the district is complying with the ACLU’s requests.
“We have initiated an investigation, and both the fidelity of the investigation and any resulting action will be based on the belief that public education is the platform on which democracy stands,” said Tellez-Gagliano.
The statement also addressed the district’s decision to withhold from the public details of Nguyen’s dismissal. “I want to clarify that employee evaluations are based on numerous factors, and because the District strictly observes every employee’s right to privacy regarding their evaluation, the details of an individual’s employment status cannot be discussed in public,” wrote Tellez-Gagliano.
Eliasberg has not responded to a request for comment.