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Crowd debates high school newspaper's sex articles

Original post made on Mar 14, 2013

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 14, 2013, 11:48 AM

Comments (32)

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.


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".


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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!


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.


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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