Ross Investigates

High School Teacher Puts Her Job on the Line for Story About Student Making Porn Videos

In a volatile media environment, a new battleground has emerged in the fight for press freedoms: America’s schools.

The faculty advisor for The Bruin Voice, the student newspaper at Bear Creek High School in Stockton, California, was threatened with her job after refusing to submit a story about a student sex worker to the school administration for prior review.

In an interview on this week’s episode of Brian Ross Investigates, Kathi Duffel, the faculty advisor, said “they even sent a police officer who was waiting at my door for me one morning, questioning me about sex trafficking and distributing pornography to minors.”

The controversy centered around a profile of Caitlin Fink, an 18-year old student involved in the porn industry as a model.

According to Duffel, “We were sitting around pitching story ideas as we normally do and one of the students pitched the story,” noting that rumors had been circulating about Fink’s work throughout the school and the paper’s editors thought she might want a “chance to set the record straight.”

Duffel noted that “I think the subject matter made people uncomfortable but that’s one of the reasons why we do stories like this.”

The administration learned of the newspaper’s intent to publish the article, which detailed Fink’s work as a model for a porn agency and her aspirations to become a stripper, and issued a threatening letter to Duffel from the district superintendent which included the possibility of firing Duffel.

Citing the California Educational Code, the administration sought to stop the publication of the story, claiming it might result in “school disruption” as “Caitlin’s interview will focus primarily on her production of adult videos.”

In a letter to Duffel, the superintendent of the Lodi Unified School District wrote “should you fail to provide a copy of the article as directed, you may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.”

The superintendent claimed that the “request to review the article prior to publication [does not] interfere or infringe on such students’ right to speak freely.”

In an interview with the Law&Crime Network’s Brian Ross, Duffel said, “[T]his is not my first rodeo with the district. I have had some pretty knockdown, drag out battles over the years.”

“I am serious about free speech and I will always hold them accountable,” she continued.

Duffel says she was fortunate to have legal help from the Student Press Law Center to defend her position. California is one of fourteen states with laws on the books that provide protections for student press beyond those established by the Supreme Court in the case of Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

Duffel and her students ultimately published the story to widespread support from national media.

The paper’s managing editor, Bailey Kirkeby, who wrote the student profile that led to the controversy, said it was important to tell “the story of a young student at our school who is on her own, living her independent life and having to navigate the world of the pornography industry.”

For her part Duffel says that “I love my job. I love my students. I will always protect their right to free speech.”

The feeling is certainly reciprocated, as Lilly Tran, sports editor of the paper, says of Duffel, “She’s been such an inspiration and a role model to everyone at school, not just her class…I’m glad that she’s still here.”

[image via/Bear Creek High School]

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