MOUNTAIN VIEW -- Articles in a student newspaper about sex -- that obsession of teenagers and staple of their nonchalant online exchanges -- have ignited parental protests and calls to rein in student journalists at Mountain View High School.
The stories are overly explicit and inappropriate for a school publication, parents say. They claim passages in the February issue of the Oracle promote misinformation, unprotected sex and possibly even illegal behavior.
Students said they have a right to print what they want and that the paper carefully assigns and reviews stories. But the debate also illustrates the gap between adult and teen conversation and mores.
Those who implored the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District board to take action against the journalism program came away disappointed, as trustees listened politely then praised the publications at Mountain View and also at Los Altos High. A majority of the 250 people attending the board meeting this week seemed to support the papers, as did most of the 40-plus speakers who addressed the board.
"We have two outstanding newspapers," Superintendent Barry Groves said. In the Oracle's features on "Sex and Relationships," he said, "there's nothing I would have taken down."
The articles covered Valentine's Day advice, the side benefits of breakups, various kinds of love, a sex poll, abstinence, humorous advice for guys and a story, "What they teach you in health, and what you really need to know."
It was those last two stories that drew the most parental ire.
"If those articles were written in a company newsletter in a New York second that employee would be terminated," said Moe De Luca of Mountain View.
Others agreed and said the articles could jeopardize students' admission to college or job offers. Parent Michael Long said stories should be uplifting, professional and responsible. Tabitha Hanson, mother of a freshman, said she believes the Mountain View High newspaper needs to be elevated and abide by journalism ethics.
Students and their supporters emphatically disagreed with the criticism.
"These folks are doing exactly what good journalists do," said Fred Turner, associate professor of journalism at Stanford University. He called the Oracle "exceptionally well written."
Senior Abby Cunniff, Oracle opinions editor, said she wrote the "what you really need to know" story to promote communication.
Objectionable content is determined partly by a newspaper's community, the school district's attorney Chris Keiner¿ said. And in the case of the Oracle, that community is the high school.
It may be that parent and campus standards are out of sync. 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 their kids talking, texting and typing about sex but also actually having sex, students said. "Shooting the messenger won't fix anything, " said Oracle staffer Tom Ashkenazi, a sophomore.
Some parents objected to a lack of balance and to the Abercrombie & Fitch-like photo of Mountain View baseball team members with pants unzipped and shirts off.
Of the entire issue, Oracle adviser Amy Beare said, she regrets not asking that photo be cropped a little higher -- above the zippers. But otherwise, she said she stands by the stories.
California has among the strongest protections for student journalists. With few exceptions, like for obscenity and libel, teachers may not censor material before publication. Beare, who also teachers English, said she and the Oracle staff had extensive conversations about Cunniff's article, which was sent back for more research and rewriting several times.
Whereas Von Packard, a parent of three grown children, found the issue encouraged sexual objectification, Oracle features editor Negin Shahiar, a junior, said the stories "have significant education value" and may in some instances be tasteless but not obscene.
One critic said that advice in the "Cosmo for Men" article bordered on advocating date rape, by suggesting that guys carry scissors for cutting belts on a date. Perhaps part of the problem, trustee Phil Faillace said, is that humor and satire are hard to pull off. He and others suggested that parents write letters to the editor of the Oracle.
Roy Tinklenberg, whose daughter Bethany took the baseball players photo, said the community has a right and responsibility to express concerns. "Let's come together on this and find common ground."
Parents said they intend to talk to the journalists.
One of the Oracle's editors-in-chief, senior Viet Nguyen, said he'd welcome a discussion. "We knew that when we wrote the articles that they would be controversial," he said.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.
Publishes: Six times a year
Staff: 39 freshmen through seniors
Class: Elective that meets four times a week
Budget: $12,000 -- funded by $6,000 in subscriptions and $6,000 from ads and sponsors