News

Crowd debates high school newspaper's sex articles

MVLA officials hear from dozens of students, parents about journalism program

When Chloe Tarrasch, the Focus section editor for the Mountain View High School student newspaper, was putting together a special two-page spread on sex for the February edition of the Oracle, she never imagined the controversy that would follow its publication.

"We've had so many conversations and debriefs of what has happened within the past month," Tarrasch said, reflecting on the community's reaction to the package of articles and informational graphics, titled "Sex and Relationships," which ran in her section in the Feb. 8 issue of the paper.

What began about a month ago with a relatively small, but vocal, group of parents and community members voicing their concerns over Oracle articles on sex and student drug use has mushroomed into a community-wide debate about what is fit to print in a high school newspaper.

At the March 11 meeting of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District's board of trustees, the advisers and editors for the student newspapers at both Mountain View and Los Altos high schools gave a presentation to the board in a venue usually reserved for much larger events. Standing on the stage of MVHS' 375-seat Spartan Theatre, and looking out at the near-capacity crowd, the group led a presentation on their newspapers, which together comprise the district's journalism department.

Like most departmental presentations, the group gave a brief presentation and took questions from the board. But unlike a typical departmental presentation, the group was followed by a district lawyer -- who explained that the California Education Code provides some of the strongest legal protections in the country to high school newspapers -- and 45 public comments, which generally fell into two categories. Some speakers critiqued the Oracle for poor writing and a lack of journalistic ethics, while chastising district administrators for failing to exercise control over the student body. Others praised the periodical as a shimmering example of high-quality student journalism and accused the paper's detractors for being out of touch, prudish and attempting to muzzle the Oracle staff simply because they were uncomfortable with its candid, straightforward coverage.

Audio from the meeting can be heard here

Differing views

Tarrasch said she was excited to see the huge turnout. The meeting, which was moved to Spartan Theatre in anticipation of a large crowd, drew reporters from local CBS and NBC television news affiliates.

"I do think it's a good thing," Tarrusch said, noting with a smile that controversy is very seldom bad for news outlets. But more importantly, the Focus editor said she believed the controversy was proof that she and her colleagues had done what they, as journalists, are supposed to do -- get the community thinking and talking about challenging topics

Dave Boyce, the father of a Mountain View High School student and CEO of a local Internet company, had a different take. "

I think we know why we're here," Boyce said. "It's because mistakes were made. You wouldn't get this many people into an audience if mistakes weren't made."

Superintendent Barry Groves used the phrase, "mistakes were made," at a Feb. 11 board meeting and in a subsequent interview with the Voice, saying that he felt some of the phrases Abby Cunniff used in her article, "What they teach you in health, and what you really need to know," might have been overly graphic and perhaps a bit crass. Groves stopped short of saying those words were obscene, and noted he was sure no legal red lines were crossed in Cunniff's story.

Boyce took particular issue with Cunniff's discussion of masturbation and sexual climax. Other parents said they were offended by the phrase "blue balls."

One Mountain View student argued that nothing printed in their paper would have to be edited out of a PG-13 movie, while noting that just about every high school student enters freshman year at 14. But community members and parents, including Boyce, said that because the Oracle reaches beyond the Mountain View High School campus -- to local middle schools and homes -- children much younger than 13 had access to the paper.

Cunniff, a senior at Mountain View, defended herself forcefully and without apology.

"I did not write this article to marginalize anyone, to promote anything or to educate students in the place of their parents," Cunnif said. "I wrote this article to promote communication on sex in an educated manner."

When it came to the controversial slang term, "blue balls," Cunniff said she didn't chose to use the phrase in order to be "flippant or crass," but because it was the most readily available term in her personal vernacular. She pointed out that the American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes the term, alluding to a report she found online. Indeed, a search by the Voice turned up a 2007 academic paper, authored by Jonathan M. Chalett and Lewis T. Nerenberg for the journal "Pediatrics," which explained that the term refers to pain -- sometimes extreme -- which young adult males may experience after "sustained sexual arousal" that has been "unrelieved." "It is remarkable that the medical literature completely lacks acknowledgment of this condition," the authors wrote.

Student drug use

Cunniff's article was not the only story that upset parents and community members. An article that appeared in the September 2012 issue of the Oracle, entitled "Teens smoke at home," was also mentioned. This piece, by Claire Johnson, detailed the practice of certain MVHS parents who allowed their children to imbibe alcohol and smoke marijuana at home "in order to educate them about self-control."

Ron Packard said he believed the article did more than simply explore the practice of allowing children to consume drugs and alcohol in the home, but that it actively promoted illegal activity.

That's not how Tom Ashkenazi, a sophomore and staff writer for the Oracle, read the article. "Not a single student started using drugs because of the article," Ashkenazi said. "Our job as journalists is to accurately and honestly report the truth. And this is exactly what we did with this article. Shooting the messenger won't fix anything."

Other students who spoke up in support of the article shared Ashkenazi's sentiment. Kate Kesner, a junior at MVHS, said she trusts the Oracle to provide her with accurate information in language she can relate to. "When you enter high school, it's not this perfect little bubble," Kesner said. "There are people saying things about sex and they're usually inaccurate and sometimes just dumb. When I read the Oracle, I am excited to know it's real information about sex and relationships, provided in an entertaining format."

Where's the line?

Chris Keiner, the attorney and legal adviser to the district who explained California's student journalism laws, had been invited to the meeting because "there was some misinformation in the community about what could be done," according to Groves.

Groves said some parents and community members have asked him directly in board meetings and via email whether they could form a commission to review the student newspaper before it is published so as to ensure that it meets community standards. The answer, Groves told the Voice, is no.

Keiner said that it is unlawful for any California district to censor or exercise prior restraint upon a student publication, unless an article is libelous, slanderous, obscene or incites students to act in such a way that presents a "clear and present danger" to the normal operation of the school.

In a previous email exchange with the Voice one of the first parents to express concern over articles in the Oracle said she felt that some of what had been printed in Cunniff's story was obscene. And a speaker at the March 11 meeting, Moe DeLuca, said regardless of whether a legal line was crossed, the article demonstrated poor oversight that warranted repercussions.

"I'll be pretty point blank," DeLuca said. "If those articles were written in a company newsletter -- I'm originally from the East Coast, so I'm going to use an East Coast term -- in about a New York second that employee would have been terminated."

In response to this critique, Tarrasch noted that there is a big difference between a corporate newsletter and a newspaper, but even if there weren't, the law is on the side of Oracle advisor Amy Beare. California school districts are barred from firing or censuring any employee for articles that appear in a student newspaper.

Ethics and quality

Some who were upset with what has been printed in the Oracle argued that the whole controversy could have been avoided if the students on the paper, and, more importantly, Beare, had kept a closer eye on quality and journalistic ethics.

"I don't have any problem saying 'masturbation,' I don't have any problem talking about sex with my children," said Tabitha Hanson, one of a group of three mothers who, along with Christy Reed and Sarah Robinson, addressed the board in January with concerns that school administrators were not doing enough to enforce district rules and community standards -- presenting as evidence the Oracle article on students smoking marijuana in the home. Hanson insisted that she didn't have a problem with the newspaper tackling difficult issues in its pages.

"I have no interest in shutting down the Oracle. My sole interest is elevating our journalism program at Mountain View High School. ... This is not a question of moral conversation, this is a question of curriculum and style," she said.

Hanson said she has researched other high school journalism programs over the past month and has concluded that what other programs are producing is "far superior in quality" to the Oracle. Hanson said she would like to see the student paper move on to become an "award-winning" high school journalism program. However, she said she is convinced that before that could happen, administrators and student writers would need to "make sure that each article is in line with your journalistic code of ethics"

Fred Turner, a Boston-based freelance journalist who is currently an associate professor of journalism and communication at Stanford University, countered Hanson.

"I heard earlier the phrase, 'mistakes were made,' and I want to disagree with that," Turner told the board. "I think, on the contrary, these folks are doing exactly what good journalists do."

The Oracle is "exceptionally well written, exceptionally well sourced, carefully and thoroughly vetted by staff, and something that I would be proud to be associated with if I were," he said.

Henri Boulanger, a senior at MVHS, drew loud applause with a public comment pointing out that as a high school newspaper, the Oracle has run poorly written stories for as long as he has been reading it and questioning why parents and community members had suddenly become so vocal in critiquing the paper.

"I wanted to figure out why this issue -- why is this happening now?" Boulanger later told the Voice. He noted that the quality of writing in the Oracle hasn't changed much since he has been attending Mountain View high.

"A lot of parents, it seems -- at least the most vocal parents -- seem to be making this an issue of professionalism." He said that could be fair and acknowledged he felt some recent articles could be seen as unprofessional.

"I think what I'm driving at is that people are hiding behind this veil that it's just about professionalism," he said, speculating that at the root of all the criticism is that some parents and other community members "like to think of the world, society, this town as a place where ideals are norm, and it's not. Whether that's for better or for worse, we live in an imperfect world and the Oracle is writing about that."

A matter of balance

Asked whether she felt the Focus section was balanced in February's "Sex and Relationships" package, Tarrasch answered in the affirmative. She also said that writers, editors and other editorial staff on the Oracle represent a wide range of political beliefs -- from liberal to conservative.

But one former Oracle writer and Mountain View resident, Amanda Carmack, isn't so sure. Carmack, who wrote for the paper in the early '90s, said she remembers the newspaper being truly balanced back then. Carmack said that while she didn't agree with Cerys Holstege's opinion piece arguing that so-called "abstinence-only" education isn't effective, she "did not take any issue with her article."

Carmack said that she wrote an article about her choice to be abstinent for an Oracle package on sex when she was attending MVHS. "That was a balanced ... spread," she said. "When I looked at this spread, I did not see balance." Carmack said she would have liked to see a student voice, "because I know there are students at Mountain View High School who are choosing abstinence at this time."

Steve and Linda Tabaska, who have a daughter at MVHS, agreed with Carmack. After the community comment period, they told the Voice that they know there are students who were offended by the "Sex and Relationships" package.

Steve Tabaska said he has spoken to numerous teens who felt that a line had been crossed with the "Sex and Relationships" spread, suggesting that perhaps the Oracle hadn't tried hard enough to find a student willing to lend a divergent view.

Moving forward

After the meeting, Tarrasch said that she and her fellow Oracle colleagues would strive to give more balance to the topics they cover -- something she said they already work very hard at -- but beyond that, she said she feels the paper is already doing a great job and wouldn't change much.

Tabaska said that it "remains to be seen" whether the board of trustees had actually heard the concerns they voiced at the meeting. As for the students and Oracle staff, a woman standing around outside the theater as the crowd dispersed said she was skeptical that the the teenagers had really listened to what the adults had to say.

Regardless of whether the board takes any significant action, Tabaska said he fully expects teens to continue pushing up against the rules. When they do, he continued, parents -- like he and his wife -- will always be there, ready to push back.

Superintendent Groves made it clear he's not looking to overhaul his district's journalism program.

"I trust our sites to make good decisions about our student publications" and intimated he had no plans to change the way oversight is handled at the district's two papers.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by MVHS parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

"Tabaska said that it "remains to be seen" whether the board of trustees had actually heard their voices heard at the meeting. As for the students and Oracle staff, a woman standing around outside the theater as the crowd dispersed said she was skeptical that the the teenagers had really listened to what the concerned adults had to say.

Regardless of whether the board takes any significant action, Tabaska said that he fully expects that teens will continue to be push up against the rules and parents -- like he and his wife -- will always be there, ready to push back."

-----

Mr. and Mrs. Tabaska told the Voice reporter that they are not convinced that the Board of Trustees heard their opinions? Really? Anyone at the meeting will agree that Dr. Groves and the trustees definitely acknowledged all the opinions expressed on this matter.

"...a woman standing around outside the theater as the crowd dispersed said she was skeptical that the the teenagers had really listened..." Really? REALLY? Some of the student journalists are needed immediately to help the Voice improve the quality of their reporting.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Future MVHS parent
a resident of Slater
on Mar 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm

First, I commend the MVHS students and staff for their intelligent, balanced opinions.

Second, I find it hilariously ironic that Ms. Carmack referred to an article on abstinence as a "spread".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Abstinence is the best policy
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm

Do we really need more teenager pregnancies? A child is a delicate thing that needs lots of love and support, are teenagers really ready to devote time in doing this? NO. Get your life in order first, than make the decision based on logic, whether you are ready to take care and provide for a youngster. Or in some cases, woman want to go the business route and not have kids at all, too demanding for a career minded woman.


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Posted by Mary
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Mar 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm

It seems to me that folks (including "parents") who oppose school provided sexual education and clarity for the young support ignorance under the false flag of "innocence". Ignorance is always just ignorance. Accurate information is empowering and protective of "innocence" esp for females. When the young are taught the processes and consequences of sexual activities "accidental" pregnancies decline and many girls' lives are kept on track. And boys have informed decisions to make.

I suspect that these same folks who oppose sexual education from schools, claiming that it is the right of the parents to provide, are probably not providing that education to their children. That's usually how it goes you know.

When will this country grow up vav responsible sexuality? We are a laughing stock in many parts of the world. They see us as childish and naive, and they are right.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 3:19 pm

@Mary - I take offense to your statement "that these same folks who oppose sexual education from schools, claiming that it is the right of the parents to provide, are probably not providing that education to their children".

I take great offense that you assume or label me (or these parents) as not meeting my/our parental responsibility in providing sexual education to my/our child(ren).

It is MY job to ensure my child has the answers he/she needs to navigate his/her way through this sexually permissive world. I take great pains to ensure the line of communication is open so that all of his/her questions are answered in a thoughtful and honest way.

It's difficult enough to navigate these waters without having to deal with all the crap they learn/hear from other kids, now I get to deal with the school board as well? There is a line here that has been crossed, and the ADULTS at this school and it's school board are simply a group who refuses to put on their big-boy and big-girl pants and do their job. I just love how these journalism students get to hide behind the California Education Code. I can't wait to find out what flood gate that opens and what we can look forward to finding in our childrens school newspaper now.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Slater
on Mar 14, 2013 at 3:44 pm

"Moe DeLuca, said regardless of whether a legal line was crossed, the article demonstrated poor oversight that warranted repercussions."

Mr. DeLuca is on the right track. Just because students apparently CAN print just about anything they want, doesn't mean that they SHOULD. This is where proper adult/teacher supervision and guidance come in to play. Knowing when to stop, even if you don't have too, is one sign of adult behavior,and sadly, that was the lesion lost in this issue by adult staff and students alike. I am sure that everything in the article can be found on the internet if you choose to look for it, so why write this article? I suspect if you look beneath the surface, it was written as an "in your face" shock to parents, with a "look what we can do, and you can't stop us" attitude. Where is the adult oversight in this conversation?


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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm

Well said Bob. The articles appear to be more about shock value while the teachers, principal and board amazingly stood back and said, gee, those kids sure are brilliant, responsible adults that can handle such topic in a school paper directed at 14-18 year olds. Guess what? They are all still kids. And plenty of them will go on to do plenty of stupid irresponsible things if adults don't take the responsibility to manage and guide them. Beyond that, parents have a right, yes a right, to look after and speak up for the well being of their children when adults in charge of the schools attempt to spin it into a student's rights issue while ignoring the in appropriateness of the topics for a school paper directed at minors.


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Posted by Scott Lamb
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm

The Mercury News said "the heroes were the administrators and educators who stood up for the paper, led by Superintendent Barry Groves." Sounds about right. When faced with such a vocal minority calling for blood, many would have caved and penalized the students somehow or weaseled out by saying that their hands are tied by law (a half-truth, I think). Groves and company instead did the right thing. That takes guts.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Simon
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Frankly, this issue comes down to parents' misapprehensions about what their kids know, should know and, most importantly, their power of censorship.

Here's the reality: sex is everywhere. It's in movies, on Facebook and in school hallways. By middle school, most kids will know more about sex than their parents are comfortable with. By high school, sex is hardly a novel topic anymore.

The problem with this debate is that parents aren't realizing what their kids already know. By virtue of attending school and having friends to talk to, kids learn about sex. As a parent, you can't stop that.

By publishing its "Sex and Relationships" spread, The Oracle was attempting to provide students with real information on a real issue, written in a way that high schoolers can relate to. Sure, some of the language was badly picked. Nonetheless, The Oracle provided students with a reasonable, well-thought-out piece on sex, which is pertinent to teenagers' lives because it addresses an issue that is two often brushed under the table by parents and teachers alike.

Parents, please realize this: teenagers are not thoughtless creatures. Teenagers will not make every mistake in the book just because they're young. They are not looking to crash your car or burn down your neighborhood, so please don't treat them like barbarians. Treat them like the thoughtful, maturing young adults they are, and hopefully you'll come to understand why The Oracle chose to devote a full center spread to sex.

Tom Ashkenazi said it best: "Our job as journalists is to accurately and honestly report the truth. And this is exactly what we did with this article. Shooting the messenger won't fix anything."

As a Bay Area student journalist, I applaud The Oracle for its courage in publishing a spread that would cause this kind of controversy for the greater benefit of its audience: students.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 6:29 pm

MVHS is not a private school, yet they are highly dependant on the checks we parents write while our children attend this school. At least that is the message they convey in their aggressive fundraising campaigns. I wonder if they they would miss my $1,000 check (as that IS the 'suggested' minimum amount they ask from each family)?

I wonder if they would miss ten families $1,000 checks?

Surely they would miss the $1,000 checks from 300 families who decided to put thier checkbooks away until their concerns were taken seriously?

Perhaps it's time to find out.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Some parents don't know or don't want to talk about the subject of sex, what is the right age, when is the right time. Kids how do you approach your parents on the subject of sex.

Tell you the truth my girlfriend liked this show called Life of American Teenager, I though the show was plain dumb. What these kids did was bring it out into the open.

Maybe these kids will see the hassles of having sex, babies, STD's, bad reps or whatever the cause and effect of having sex and it is ok just not to bother with sex.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

Sharon, making your voluntary gifts to the school conditional on whether you like what the student newspaper prints is censorship. It is against the spirit of the freedom to speak, which is the most important freedom and the foundation of our whole system of self government.

My opinion is that parents have the right and the obligation to control the ideas that their children and teenagers are exposed to. But the legislature has rejected that opinion. The law in this state is that public school pupils have full speech rights.

The real solution is vouchers, as part of an overhaul of school funding to provide real choice for parents. With vouchers, parents who want to give their children and teenagers wholesome environments in which to form their ideas and personalities could send their children to religious or other private schools without having to continue to pay, as taxpayers, for a seat in the public schools.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MVResi
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm

This is a reply to Sharon. I can assure you that you did not write a 1000 dollar check to the Oracle. Don't flatter yourself. I on the other hand, am an official sponsor for the Oracle and in fact did send in an 1500 dollars to support the paper. I can tell you that for ever dollar you abstain from sending in, 2 more are sent in to support the Oracle as a direct result of this ordeal. Your threats are meaningless. 300 families? You mean the 3 parents that have nothing better to do than to (unsuccessfully) bully these kids.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm

@Wo\'O Ideafarm & MV Resi, I never said That I wrote a check to the paper. All families of MVHS students are solicited to support the school. Withholding my voluntary donation has absolutely nothing to do with trying to censor the paper.

It's no surprise that people have lost sight (or haven't been informed) of the problem we parents have been trying, for months, to address with school officials. I don't understand how you could single out three parents and acuse them of bullying the students when a group large enough to fill the auditorium was present at the school board meeting this week. I could not agree more with their concerns.

Things have simply snowballed into this Oracle issue.

So I'll remind everyone that the base of the concerns of this growing group of parents is the lack of leadership and refusal to accept accountability by the adults running this school. We aren't angry at the kids, we aren't lazy parents asking the school to handle our parental responibilities, and we aren't religious fanatics trying to impose our moral beliefs on the masses. We are parents, asking our school officials to DO THIER JOBS!

Oh, and it's my kid, my school, my checkbook, my choice!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by HS parent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 14, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Sharon, you aren't alone. MVLA won't be getting my $1,000 check either until the MVHS administration can actually lead (they are apathetic in many areas). And...there aren't 2 more parents for every dollar withheld - that's just bull. Right now the kids rule the school at MVHS and that won't change until leadership changes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharroniswrong
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 14, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Sharron. You are factually wrong and ignorant. In an earlier post you said " I wonder if they they would miss my $1,000 check (as that IS the 'suggested' minimum amount they ask from each family)?" You exaggerate so much, it's comical. The Oracle asks for 20 dollars for subscriptions. Stating that they ask you for 1000 dollars is simply incorrect. Please get your facts straight before you go blabbing your mouth. I'm glad the media caught this blatant attempt to control the media to fit certain view points to expose people like you.

On a side note, please keep your money. If you think your money will allow you control what you see in the media, you are (once again) wrong. Please grow up. The Oracle is financially fine and would rather starve than take your money.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Wow. How many ways do I have to explain that my voluntary donation is NOT money earmarked for the Oracle? I am specifically talking about the money the school asks us to put in the little envelope they send to my house a least twice per year. Those funds go to pay for things like that shiney new wing they are buiding on campus.

You can call me names and acuse me of not having my facts straight all you want, but the FACT is I'm not talking about money being solicited or made in donation to support the school paper. I'm talking about the hundreds of thousands of dollars this school solicites from parents that support ALL programs, and the insult to those writing these checks when their concerns are so easily dismissed. Go ahead and spin my words into something else. I can only hope that for every one person who misconstrudes my words, two more comprehend them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Not sure how many times this has to be said - many, if not most, of the concerns raised over the articles in the paper were NOT contesting the printing of factual subject matter on sex or sexuality. In fact, most if not all of the adults who spoke at all three meetings where these topics were discussed agreed these topics are of interest and importance to high school students and writing about them is not taboo. It's HOW they are written about.

As a public health matter, if our students are going to receive information about sexual activity it should be accurate. There is great concern over the misleading information that was printed and distributed to nearly 2,000 teens in our local community (among them some middle schools students ages 12 and 13).

For instance most birth control options do not provide any STD protection. This was not made clear in the article. Emergency contraception is a very complex subject that was addressed as a "one-liner" in the center spread. The tone of another article joking about aggressive sexual behavior (Cosmos for Men) was archaic and harmful to the hundreds of women who are victimized every day - yes, even more so when it's under the humor section.

This isn't only about parents not liking wording in the articles - it's about learning to be accurate with the great rights of publishing a paper.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Clarifications
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Mar 14, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Just a few clarifying points...

- The theatre was about 2/3 full, and the very large majority were supportive of the paper.

- The $1,000 "ask" (mentioned by Sharon) is for the high school Foundation, which funds programs above and beyond the regular budget. If the Foundation doesn't raise funds to meet its goal, some of those programs (tutors, extended library hours, PSATs, etc) might get cut back. Sharon, and any others who opt to withhold donations, would just be hurting kids.

- In our democratic society, speaking at public meetings and writing letters to the editor are great ways to express one's views. However, nobody is forced to act on those views. That does not mean people aren't listening. (How often do we hear people say, "I went to the City Council meeting and told them x,y,z, and they didn't do anything." Perhaps the speaker's viewpoint wasn't deemed to represent the majority.)

- The paper (and superintendent at a prior meeting) acknowledged the articles went too far in a couple of cases. Everyone has probably learned from the experience. Let's see what happens going forward. If those with concerns are upset about some of the words (or a photo), those concerns have been acknowledged. If those with concerns are upset about the topics...well, it doesn't seem that censoring topics is legal.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by HS Parent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 14, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Clarifications: I don't know any parents who were concerned that students were tacking these TOPICS, but rather that some of them (not all) were tackling them in a way that didn't reflect good or responsible journalism. If our students at our schools perform poorly in any other area of instruction, as responsible parents we get involved and try to get the school to raise the bar. Same thing with journalism. Except with journalism, when students are poorly educated on proper journalism standards (including accuracy on key health topics), they affect their ENTIRE student body.

So, it is important and the kids deserve to have the best instruction possible and that includes learning to write like quality, respectful high school journalists...especially when tackling heavy issues like drugs and sex.


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Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 14, 2013 at 11:00 pm

It is very clear that these parents are trying to hide behind the term "professionalism" as a means to get what they want. Obviously they were not listening at the meeting when nationally recognized journalists and professors attested to the professionalism of the Oracle. You are entitled to your opinion, but lets not hide behind the term "professionalism" because the SPLC, JEA, and NSPA, all nationally recognized journalism committees and critics gave high marks to Oracle for this content and journalism.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Don't jump to conclusions
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 14, 2013 at 11:31 pm

MV Resident, that's a big conclusion to jump to without having a personal conversation with these parents. Anyone familiar with various Codes of Ethics for journalists, even HS journalists, would be able to see that there's plenty of room for journalistic improvement at the Oracle. Parents, yes even Stanford parents, who like to tell their student journalists that they are perfect and amazing with no room for improvement aren't doing their kids any favors in the long term.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV Oracle
a resident of Whisman Station
on Mar 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Hi, First off I would like to say that no one is saying that the Oracle is a perfect paper. In fact, we are the first to admit that. In this case, what the parents did precluded any chance of productive change to be made. They went on the offense and went to the school board rather than talk directly to us. We invite speakers into Oracle all time and accept letters to the editor on a regular basis (although we usually don't get any). What I'm trying to say is, treat us like adults. Don't go over our heads and tattle to the administration. If you truly want change, talk to us like your peers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Just a Thought
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2013 at 12:01 am

I hope parents speaking up doesn't preclude positive changes being made - why? I saw that the adults who came that night listened respectfully to all speakers and went away with some food for thought. I would expect and hope students did the same - no? I hope we can discuss issues at the high school with out deciding that because someone has spoken up precludes any future input or participation. Part of learning is being open to criticism, even when it doesn't come the way you invite it. I believe parents went to the principal, the journalism advisor and superintendent last fall with concerns over the Oracle. This was not the first time concerns were brought. Maybe it's the first time students heard of it but not the administration.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mel
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 15, 2013 at 12:10 am

Sharon. I am actually with you on the money issue to the foundation. Money talks in this district. On the flip side.......I support the student's freedom of expression I really do and understand that teens are doing things that we prefer they not, it's part of growing up.

It's the teacher that oversees the process I have the problem with. You could have lead / guided the student to write / revise the article and it could remain an informative and funny article - where are the ethics in this country going?

Why is it that the people with the loudest voices seem to think they are the majority????? Sounds like pushing the misguided agenda.

Groves I do applaud you for supporting your staff member - sure hope you had a private conversation and suggested that they use more discretion in the future.


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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2013 at 8:25 am

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

Two thoughts:

(1) There is no need to say anything negative about anyone. Build community by respecting one another. Intelligent people with the same core values can disagree. That is ok and it is part of the process of a community finding its way.

(2) The essential function of a school is to present a sequence of ideas to individuals to guide and, yes, control, the formation of their world view, values, and other ideas considered to be the foundation for participation in our system of government, which is a system of SELF government that requires active participation and common core values. Parents have a right and a duty to monitor and control the ideas that the children and teenagers are exposed to while at school. What is printed in the school newspaper must be only the beginning of a civic conversation at school, a conversation that must be guided by teachers and administrators who accept responsibility for ensuring that the conversation promotes the formation of the good, strong adult men and women that our community and society needs.

IOW, students have the right to speak. But they do not have the right to determine the overall character of the educational experience. The administrators and teachers must ensure that the experience remains wholesome.


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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2013 at 10:57 am

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

One more thought:

In First Amendment jurisprudence, there are three kinds of forums: (1) public forums, (2) limited public forums, and (3) private forums. (see e.g. Barron and Dienes, First Amendment Law in a Nutshell, 2009). California Education Code 48907 provides that, for public school pupils, the campus is a public forum.

Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps the law should be amended so that the campus is a limited public forum. In a limited public forum, the forum operator can restrict the topics discussed, but for any given topic, may not restrict the viewpoints that are allowed to be expressed. In a limited public forum, there is no requirement that the time, place, and manner restrictions minimize the amount of speech that is suppressed; the restrictions need only be reasonable given the primary function of the forum.

The current law is not even constitutional, for it would permit students to use a public school campus to promote a particular religion, which would arguably violate the First Amendment on separation of church and state grounds.

The current law does not permit teachers and administrators to control the scope and sequence of the ideas that students are exposed to on campus. This is the essence of what a school is. The job of the teacher is to shape and guide the formation of the individual's values and world view, so that the individual develops into a good, strong man or woman.

The law must be changed so that a public school campus is a limited public forum, rather than a full public forum.


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Posted by Wo\'O Ideafarm
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2013 at 6:11 am

Wo\'O Ideafarm is a registered user.

Web Link

The students made the front page of the First Amendment Coalition's web site (link above).


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Posted by MV
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Just because someone has the right to say something, it doesn't make it right say....a fundamental concept that good journalists know and something we should all be trying to teach in our schools and communities.


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Posted by Karen Neyman - MVHS Mom
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Mar 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

1. A Journalism Professor from Stanford (Fred Turner) gave the paper and it's staff Kudos for a job well done.

2. Majority of those present (both youth and adults) were supportive of the Oracle, and it's Sex & Relationship issue.

3. The target audience of the paper is HS students. No HS students expressed the viewpoint that this was offensive to them.

4. An attorney for the district claimed student journalists, the review process, and the publication content were all acceptable and within legal bounds.

5. The students listened. It was a school night, many students took time out of their schedules to be there to listen. Just because people don't agree, doesn't mean that they did not hear you.

6. I feel the district was very balanced in how they handled the community response to the Oracle. Job well done!


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Posted by District parent
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Sharon, I don't think it's at all accurate that parental concerns weren't listened to. They were. The board just didn't agree with them. Big difference. If you are going to withhold a donation because you don't like the choices made by the school, so be it. Absolutely your right to do so. But to justify it by saying that the concerns of parents weren't attended to is silly. They heard you, but simply disagree with you. It's called free speech. Which, of course, brings us right back to the original issue. Just because you don't agree personally with something doesn't mean that it is wrong, or that those that disagree with YOU are obligated to change.


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Posted by Another Parent
a resident of Slater
on Mar 21, 2013 at 6:14 am

Either way, if the school board wants to cater to the extremes, then my check book will stay in the drawer when the hat comes back around. If the school board wants money, they should take a middle-of-the-road approach to issues like these. And, besides Sharon, I'm not the only one saying this. Live and learn.


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