Palo Alto police chased and arrested a robbery suspect on Paly’s campus on Nov. 4. While classes were not instructed to go into lockdown during the chase, many did, and after 10 minutes of confusion, Principal Adam Paulson made a school-wide announcement that the campus was safe.
Following the arrest, several student journalists, either on preparatory periods or in a journalism class at the time, rushed to report on the incident, taking pictures of paramedics aiding an injured police officer. The students stood behind barriers erected by Paly campus security, not creating an inappropriate disturbance for the officer.
While student journalists were acting well within their Constitutionally protected rights to document police activity in a public space, and police officers respected this, Paly campus security tried to prevent students from taking pictures and would not let them stay at the scene.
The Campanile thinks school officials ought to learn more about student press rights and make efforts to educate all staff members through training sessions.
School officials’ actions in this situation were a direct violation of students’ First Amendment rights — more specifically, California Ed Code 48907, which protects student freedom of the press. According to the Student Press Law Center, “The right to publish news is closely tied to the right to gather the news in the first place.” In Branzburg v. Hayes (1972), the Supreme Court said the right to be press “could be eviscerated” if there was no right to gather news.
When telling student journalists to go back to class, campus supervisors and administrators cited a lack of safety as the reason. However, Paulson had already deemed the campus safe at this point, making this argument a contradiction. Other administrators claimed that an adult adviser had to be present for student journalists to report, which is also untrue. The law should be followed because it is a law, not because an adult is present.
Given that the safety of the campus had already been announced, campus supervisors and administrators’ actions in stopping students from reporting were unjustified, illegal and occurred due to an unequal power dynamic between students and staff.
Although The Campanile doesn’t think it was the intent of school officials to violate student journalists’ rights, their lack of awareness is concerning. In order to combat this, staff should be required to attend an informational meeting in order to educate them on protocol when interacting with student journalists in high-pressure situations.
This information could be communicated in a “Learning Strand” session, which is a mandatory staff meeting in which teachers lead discussions for all staff on an array of topics.