Free speech activist speaks at Palo Alto High School

Student journalists tour new media building as Brin-Wojcicki gift announced

A free speech activist visited Palo Alto High School Tuesday as student journalists got a sneak preview of the school's new Media Arts Building.

Mary Beth Tinker, whose 1969 case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District, established First Amendment rights for students on campus, spoke to Paly students about the importance of speaking out and exercising their rights.

"The Tinker decision has been core to the success of Palo Alto High School media programs, and it will continue to be of bedrock importance as we move into our new home at Paly," said longtime journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki, as she and fellow journalism teacher Paul Kandell led student journalists on a tour of the still-empty Media Arts Building.

Mary Beth Tinker was a 13-year-old junior high school student in 1965 when she, her older brother and another student wore black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War, prompting school officials to enact a no-armband policy.

A federal district court ruled against the students but the case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1969 that schools cannot silence student expression just because they dislike it.

Forty-five years later, Tinker, a nurse who lives in Washington D.C., travels around the country to promote youth activism and free speech.

Wojcicki also announced Tuesday that the family foundation of her daughter, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, and son-in-law, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, will help pay for "auxiliary furniture and equipment" for the new building.

The $85,000 Brin-Wojcicki Foundation gift comes atop the $100,000 already raised by Paly's Media Arts Boosters group, led by parents Carol Chalmers and Debbie Crouch.

The funds will be used to provide upgrades for the new building's six classrooms, courtyard, computer lab, kitchen, atrium, journalism library and broadcast bay, Esther Wojcicki said.

The 23,000-square-foot Media Arts Building will house 550 media arts students and 250 English students. The combined planning and construction expenditures for that building together with a nearby two-story, 27-classroom math and social studies building was $34 million.

Occupancy of both buildings, originally set for last summer, has been delayed by litigation with Taisei Construction Corp. over $1.65 million in disputed costs. Wojcicki said she hopes to occupy her classroom in the new building by mid-April.

Chris Kenrick


Like this comment
Posted by Paly staff
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Correction: The building will officially open in August -- not next month.

Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2014 at 12:35 pm

It was only a few years ago that a local Democratic State Senator was able to get a law passed that provided student journalists the same protection as the legitimate press—

Leland Yee, PhD—Gets Law Passed Protecting Student Journalism:
Web Link

Well, now that Leland Yee, PhD., has been arrested on a host of corruption charges:
Web Link

it will be interesting to see how many of these so-called student journalists will be covering this story?

Like this comment
Posted by Free Press
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Wondering: What do you mean by "so-called student journalists"? They are student journalists. Yee's current problems have nothing to do with their standing.

Like this comment
Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 27, 2014 at 5:17 pm

"Wondering?"s "comment" shows that some people never miss a chance to air their prejudices on any given topic, no matter if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2014 at 8:08 pm

So what is the topic at hand? Looks like first amendment rights vs political correctness. Not politically correct to protest the war in 1965 Des Moines. Black arm bands were viewed as disruptive. How would red or blue armbands be viewed in many public schools today?

Like this comment
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 28, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

I have used the Tinker case in first amendment training course to 7-8th graders for American Constitutional Society.

One might consider now just how far we have come from those heady days of suppression by school boards of free speech.

Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Didn't students at a Morgan Hill school get banned from wearing American flag patriotic stuff? The school administration said it was a matter of school safety. Where is the protest, Alice Smith?

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Recall the safety issue was that the day in question was Cinco De Mayo...and the on campus "celebration".

Was it right? No. Was it smart? Probably.

Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2014 at 5:33 pm

What would Esther Wojcicki have to say about suppression of free speech at the Morgan Hill high school? Would she support a serious investigative effort by her Palo Alto high school journalism students, in order to defend free speech?

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