By Isabella Joslin, SIECUS Program Research Intern
Forty minutes’ drive south of San Francisco, The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District has been absorbed in a controversy over its high school newspaper, The Oracle. Some parents charged that the February issue, themed “Sex and Relationships,” encouraged behavior inappropriate for high school students. According to local news sources, one mother “said she had filed a formal complaint with the California State Board of Education, had called Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw to complain and was planning to do the same with Mountain View Mayor John Inks.”
The issue of the school paper included results of a poll of 375 Mountain View High School students, showing that nearly half of those surveyed (48.7%) would most likely talk to their friends, before asking parents, if they had a question about sex. The most controversial article, “What They Teach You in Health, and What You Really Need to Know,” included facts from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. It also listed the local Planned Parenthood clinic address, and advised sexually active teens to always be prepared with contraception: “The Mountain View Planned Parenthood has literally 14 types of birth control, so c’mon, GYT (get yourself tested) and use protection.” On the subject of abstinence, the Oracle told student readers that 2 out of 3 teens wish they had waited to have sex, and went on to suggest masturbation as an option, citing remarks by an associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University to de-stigmatize masturbation for females in particular.
Some parents’ objections made their way on to the agenda of the February school board meeting. Some who attended said did they not mind the Oracle’s sexual subject matter so much as the way it was presented, which they alleged was incomplete and incorrect. Sarah Robinson, mother of a high school sophomore, said, “One of the articles talked about, ‘you just need to get yourself tested’ and then you can just use oral contraception. There’s this idea being promoted that oral contraception protects against sexually transmitted diseases.”
To quote theSan Jose Mercury News as it covered the school board meeting:
“When parent Ann Martin said that incoming freshmen don’t need to know about masturbation—mentioned in one article—a wave of laughter and groans rippled through students at the meeting. Parents don’t realize that not only are kids talking, texting and typing about sex but also actually having sex, students said.”
Student author Abby Cunniff responded to the opposition:
“The intention of my article was to promote safe, healthy sex for those who wish to become, or already are, sexually active. I don’t think my article did anything to persuade or affect students who are decidedly against sexual activity, because mainstream media and other teenagers do a much better job than I do… I discussed information that I would have liked to know when I entered high school, when I felt like I was tossed into the deep end of teenage sexual interactions.”
While some parents asserted it was their right alone to educate their children about sexual health - not Cunniff’s or the district’s - Oracle student staffers argued for free speech and freedom of the press. The newspaper’s faculty advisor, English teacher Amy Beare, defended the Oracle’s right to publish, framing the issue in terms of academic achievement. In her view, the students were
“learning about their world in a way we as educators should encourage through investigation of ideas, interaction with all kinds of people and the process of writing about what they see. If they cross a line of decency that their readers find offensive, they are open to learning about that, too.”
While the Mountain View Los Altos school board decided not to take action against The Oracle, the offending article soon disappeared from the paper’s own website. The original issue in its entirety was reproduced by the Mercury News.
Nick Veronin, “Furor Erupts over Sex, Drug Stories in School Paper,” Mountain View Voice, February, 15, 2013, accessed March 13, 2013, http://www.mv-voice.com/news/show_story.php?id=6648.
Sharon Noguchi, “Mountain View High School Newspaper’s Sex Stories Raise Parents’ Ire,” MercuryNews.com, March 13, 2013, accessed March 13, 2013, http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_22775682/mt-view-high-student-papers-stories-sex-raise.
George Kiriyama and Kris Sanchez, “Mountain View High School Controversy Stirred over Sex and Relationships on School Paper,” NBC Bay Area, March 12, 2013, accessed March 13, 2013, http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Mountain-View-High-School-Controversy-Stirred-Over-Sex-and-Relationships-on-School-Paper-197379861.html.
Noguchi, “Mountain View High School Newspaper’s…”
Traci Newell, “Parents Sound Off over Mountain View High Newspaper Content,” Los Altos Town Crier, February 27, 2013, accessed March 13, 2013, http://www.losaltosonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=45576&Itemid=56.
Newell, “Parents Sound Off …”
Noguchi, “Mountain View High School Newspaper’s…”