(KRON) — Students from Mountain View High School have filed a statewide lawsuit against their school on Thursday alleging censorship. The lawsuit was filed after The Oracle, the student-ran newspaper, published a story concerning a supposed sexual assault case against a teacher in the school. In response, the school’s principal both brought down their story, and fired the school’s journalism advisor. 

“It’s a lousy sort of message to send… That if you don’t like the story that your student journalists published, you can just target their teacher who they really respect and admire,” said Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit group that works with student journalists across the country. The SPLC is also representing the student journalists in the lawsuit. 

In response to censoring the students, the principal told the paper they “ought to be publishing more positive news,” Hiestand said, “The principal missed the whole purpose of what the newspaper is about. The reason we have free press is because we have to keep our government accountable.” The journalism advisor who was fired is also suing on her own behalf for wrongful discharge.

“You know, a lot of people think that it’s stories of sex, drugs and rock and roll that are going to be censored, and you know, it happens. But the number one reason that stories get censored is when someone, like a school official, thinks that for whatever reason, it makes them look bad,” Hiestand said. 

Students involved in the lawsuit have two main demands from the school. The first is their right to publish the story instead of “the watered down version of it,” said Hiestand. The second is reinstating both the journalism advisor that got fired, along with the introductory journalism class the advisor created for the school.  

Hiestand is hopeful this can be settled before going to court. Instead of “wasting taxpayer dollars, censoring the story, and firing the advisor,” Hiestand believes the school should, “get to their senses and say, ‘we messed up, let’s figure this out.’” 

California is only one of 17 states that has state laws that specifically protecting its journalists from censorship.  “You guys [California] have made the decision to train the next generation of journalists in the way they should be trained,” Hiestand said, “They [the students] were on the front lines more than any other journalist. So, let’s listen to these kids. Let’s see what they have to say about it.” 

The district and principal have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.