'Immigration' editorial court case continues





A five-year-long waiting game over a high school student’s right to publish a controversial editorial may continue as the- California Supreme Court decides whether to hear or deny a petition in the Novato Unified School District v. Smith case.

The school district is petitioning the state supreme court to hear arguments after losing the free-speech case of former student Andrew D. Smith in a California Court of Appeal. Smith alleged his First Amendment rights were violated when the school condemned a controversial opinion article titled “Immigration” that he wrote for the student newspaper.

His lawyer said he is likely to hear from the California Supreme Court by the end of the year.

The conflict began in November 2001, when Smith’s article appeared in the school’s student newspaper, The Buzz. The article sparked outrage among students and parents for its alleged racist quips.

“If a person looks suspicious then just stop them and ask a few questions, and if they answer ‘que?’, detain them and see if they are legal,” the article reads.

After being approached by upset Latino students and parents, Novato High School Principal Lisa Schwartz ordered all remaining copies of the paper to be collected. She apologized to those offended by the article, telling them that it violated school policy and should not have been printed.

Undeterred, he authored an article in the following spring titled “Reverse Racism,” in which he argued that the American justice system is unfairly more forgiving of racial minorities. Smith has alleged that the school delayed its publication.

In May 2002, Smith filed a lawsuit against Novato Unified School District for infringement on his rights under California student free-expression laws.

Smith’s lawyer, Paul Beard, said he hoped a victory in the case would send a message to administrators about the importance of upholding open debate in schools.

“Students should be able to view and air controversial issues so they can learn how to deal with debate before they enter adulthood,” he said.

But the trial court found that Smith’s rights had not been violated because the article contained “insulting, derogatory and disrespectful speech directed at various ethnic groups.”

Smith appealed the decision in a state court of appeal, which reversed the lower court’s ruling by deciding that his rights had been violated under California law.

But on July 2, the school district prolonged the back-and-forth legal battle by petitioning for review by the California Supreme Court.

The school also requested “depublication” of the court of appeal’s ruling, which, if successful, would not allow the case to be cited in future court cases.

Beard said he doubts the state supreme court will hear the case, but if it does, it will likely uphold the court of appeal’s ruling.

Nonetheless, the administrative response to Smith’s articles has left a lasting impression on the student newspaper, Smith said. The student newspaper folded in September 2002, which Smith said could be traced to the administration’s efforts to create a “stifling” environment for student press.

“The class didn’t want to be in an atmosphere where they could potentially get into trouble,” he said.

Novato High School officials did not respond to requests for comment.


Fall 2007, reports