Bay Area high school journalists say their principal illegally interfered, censored them

Side by side photos of Hanna Olson and Hayes Duenow.
Hanna Olson, left, now a co-editor in the chief at Mountain View High School’s paper, and former Mountain View High student Hayes Duenow have sued their principal and district alleging intimidation over a story about sexual harassment.
(Whitney Ross; Hayes Duenow)

Two student journalists from a Bay Area high school are suing their principal and district, claiming they were illegally intimidated while reporting on a story about sexual harassment for the school’s newspaper.

The advisor of the student-run newspaper is also part of the suit, alleging she was retaliated against when she did not go along with the “campaign of censorship” aimed at the students’ reporting, according to the complaint, filed last week in the Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The lawsuit was filed against the Mountain View Los Altos High School District and Mountain View High principal Kip Glazer, calling her an “overbearing high school principal” accused of “bullying, threatening and [the] coercion of student journalists.”


“Glazer did what she could to silence the student journalists, and, effectively, to silence the victims of sexual harassment at Mountain View High School,” the complaint said. Jean-Paul Jassy, the attorney for the students and advisor, has represented reporters at The Times in other cases.

Glazer did not respond to a request for comment from The Times, nor did the district’s superintendent’s office.

The two students who filed the lawsuit — Hanna Olson, now a co-editor-in-chief at the school’s paper, and Hayes Duenow, a former student reporter for the newspaper who is now a freshman at UC Riverside — are seeking no financial damages in the case, but want to ensure student journalists at the school will be free of censorship in the future.

“I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t know that I was doing everything that I can to make sure our journalism program stays strong,” said Olson, a 17-year-old senior at Mountain View High. “I want to ensure that our newspaper is protected and that we don’t ever have to be fearful about censorship or retribution for publishing something ever again.”

The lawsuit alleges the principal and the district violated the California Education Code, which provides strong protections for student journalism and free speech with few exceptions, such as content that is obscene, libelous or slanderous. It also claims the defendants violated state labor laws by retaliating against the newspaper’s advisor, Carla Gomez, by removing her from that post without just cause and eliminating the school’s introductory journalism class, the gateway for students to join the student newspaper, the Oracle. Gomez is seeking financial damages in the case, as well as resumption of her newspaper advisory role and for the journalism course to be reinstated.

The article that sparked the lawsuit reported several instances and patterns of alleged student-on-student sexual harassment at the high school. While students did eventually publish the piece last spring, the final story included “substantive changes” — including the removal of key details — from earlier drafts, after pressure from Glazer, the lawsuit said.


The lawsuit alleged Glazer wanted to “avoid embarrassment rather than to respect and uphold the constitutional and statutory rights of her students and faculty.”

Duenow was one of the article’s reporters and Olson helped edit it.

“That article was definitely a heavy one to edit and to research, just because of the nature of the story,” said Olson, who hopes to pursue journalism as a career one day. “But I think that it would have been such a disservice to [the reporters] ... and to the students who were brave enough to come forward with their story if we hadn’t published that article.”

When the school’s administration learned of the article, Glazer addressed the journalism class, telling students to write about the school in a “positive light” and asking to review a draft of the article, according to the lawsuit. She later met with Gomez and students working on the article, when she “bullied and intimidated the student journalists” to remove parts of their reporting, the lawsuit said.

“Students have a right to have a student-run publication,” Gomez said, who also teaches English, philosophy and American literature, and received extra training to become the journalism advisor. “Journalism cannot survive if it’s being scrutinized by people with power that are able to intimidate students into not writing about important things.”

Gomez connected the students with the Student Press Law Center, but still, Olson remembered feeling the pressure from her principal.

In prior years “we didn’t have a lot of issues or interference from the administration ... so it was pretty surprising to see how much our administration was just opposed to the publication of the article,” Olson said. “I remember thinking like, ‘Are we doing something wrong? Have we overstepped by researching and investigating this topic?’ ... It’s scary when you have people who are, in some ways, funding your newspaper, but also people who are in positions of power, telling you that you’re doing something wrong.”


After their meetings and pressure from Glazer, the students altered the article in several ways, including removing a description of a disturbing incident, the name of an extracurricular program involving an alleged serial harasser and an accuser’s concerns that the school wasn’t holding harassers accountable, according to the lawsuit. The article had always used pseudonyms for the alleged harassers.

The Oracle, the student newspaper, has a history of taking on difficult subjects, drawing headlines in 2013, and criticism from parents, for a story on sex and relationships — but then, administrators stood by the students’ work. The superintendent at the time was quoted in the East Bay Times calling the student newspaper “outstanding,” and that “there’s nothing I would have taken down.”

But within a month of the sexual harassment article publishing last year, Gomez was removed as journalism advisor and the introductory journalism course for the fall was canceled.

According to the complaint, school officials have said that substantive changes were not made to the article after Glazer’s review and that the introduction to journalism class was cut because of a lack of enrollment.

“Rather than bullying and intimidating student journalists, Mountain View High School administrators should be listening to, empowering and supporting them,” Gary Green, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said in a statement. “The students’ in-depth reporting on a serious issue at Mountain View is precisely what the California legislature intended to protect.”

For Duenow, who is studying sociology in college, the lawsuit is an opportunity to continue to advocate for the high school paper and ensure that all students have a voice on campus.


“I think journalism and student journalism especially is just incredibly important,” Duenow said. “I think that our voices can be a superpower. ... I wanted to be a part of [the case] because I wanted it to be an example of how important it is to fight for the ability to use your superpower, to use your voice.”