La Jolla High's "senior benches"
  • La Jolla High's "senior benches"
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A statement posted on the San Diego and Imperial County ACLU website on February 16 indicates a settlement has been reached on a yearlong free-speech case at La Jolla High School.

In February 2011, principal Dana Shelburne objected to two statements painted on concrete “senior benches” by the school’s Persian Club: “Freedom for Iran” and “Down with Dictator.” Shelburne said he opposed the messages because they did not pertain to school; that the intent in allowing the painted benches was to enhance student spirit.

On behalf of student/plaintiff Yumehiko Hoshijima, the San Diego ACLU and L.A.-based law firm Bostwick & Jassy LLP challenged the school administration and district in San Diego Superior court.

Last June, a judge ordered a preliminary injunction and restraining order to prevent school officials from limiting messages on the benches. When principal Shelburne’s intent to remove the benches became public, district superintendent Bill Kowba prevented the action.

In the settlement announced last week, the school and the San Diego Unified School District agreed to rewrite their student free-speech policies to allow any message to be displayed except for those determined to be obscene, libelous, or slanderous.

La Jolla High School’s new one-page “Free Speech Policy” states, “Students are not required to ask the administration to review messages they intend to post on the bulletin board and/or paint on the Senior Benches.”

The San Diego Unified School District’s nine-page policy (dated 12/16/11) includes other prohibitions and limitations on student free speech, such as speech that may be considered provocative and/or likely to cause disruptions.

As part of the settlement, the benches are guaranteed to remain unmolested — except for the regular repainting of messages — in their current place for five more years. No monetary damages were awarded in the case.

Today, the senior benches are painted to spell out “Happy Bday Jess” on multicolored backgrounds.

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