School Newspaper Wins Fight to Publish Article on Porn Star Student

STOCKTON, Calif. (CN) – A high school newspaper article about a student in the porn industry will be published Friday after a First Amendment fight between a teacher and school district administrators.

The article, which focuses on Bear Creek High School senior Caitlin Fink, 18, will be printed in Friday’s edition of The Bruin Voice. After news of the article reached Lodi Unified School Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer, she requested a copy to review it for obscenity or defamatory statements that could possibly violate the state’s education code.

It all started when Bailey Kirkeby, reporter for the Bruin Voice newspaper at Bear Creek High School, wrote a story about fellow student Caitlin Fink, an 18-year-old senior who does nude modeling for a porn agency and sells her videos over Snapchat and Pornhub.

Nichols-Washer learned that the paper planned to run a story about Fink, and sent administrators to deliver a letter to Kathi Duffel, the English teacher who oversees the publication, asking her to provide the district with a review copy.

But Duffel refused, and contacted the Student Press Law Center, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that assists in student journalism First Amendment cases. The organization put Duffel in contact with attorney Matthew Cate, who agreed to represent her pro bono.

The district and Duffel agreed to allow an independent attorney to review the story for any violations of the education code. That attorney happened to be Cate, who found no violating material in the article.

On Tuesday Cate sent a letter to Paul Gant, attorney for the school district, detailing the reasons why the story should be published as scheduled.

It said that when a school is considering censorship to prevent defamation, prior restraint, the act of halting an article before its publication, “must, at a minimum, be based on a good faith and objectively rational determination.”

Gant sent a response letter Wednesday, acquiescing to publication but also throwing in a message that they are taking “careful note” of certain assertions that the article won’t contain “defamatory material of any nature,” won’t make “assertions of fact regarding Fink’s upbringing,” and will be “devoid of any description of sexual conduct or activity.”

Should any of those topics arise in the story, Gant states that “your clients bear the risk if your factual assertions or reasoning are inaccurate or flawed.”

But in Cate’s response, the focus is on the story itself, not perceptions about what emotions might arise upon publication. It is mainly “about the decisions Ms. Fink has made, how she is moving forward today, and her reflections on the distinction between what a person does and who that person is.”

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