Parents sound off over Mountain View High newspaper content

Photo By: Traci Newell/Town Crier
Photo Traci Newell/Town Crier “Sex & Relationships,” a feature in Mountain View High School’s student newspaper, The Oracle, prompted strong reactions from parents who objected to its content and requested closer supervision of the staff.

Sexual content published in Mountain View High School’s student-run newspaper, The Oracle, prompted several concerned parents to speak out at a district board meeting earlier this month.

The paper recently ran a two-page feature, “Sex & Relationships,” including the piece “What they teach you in health and what you really need to know.” The article upset many parents, who attended the Feb. 11 Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District board meeting to voice their objections.

Mountain View High parent Nathan Sandland described the article as “too forward” and said it “counteracts parental advice.” He said the newspaper’s editorial staff requires more adult supervision.

Other parents were worried about their teens’ younger siblings picking up the paper and reading the piece or whether the content was appropriate for 14-year-old freshmen.

Daniel Ledesma, whose four children are not yet in high school, said he was concerned with the content being “too explicit” and that he didn’t want his children exposed to it.

“It sends the wrong message,” he said. “It approves sex before marriage.”

Superintendent Barry Groves acknowledged that the article contained content that should not have been published and apologized for it.

The board has placed the journalism programs at Mountain View and Los Altos high schools on the agenda of its March 11 meeting.

“For the most part, I’m really proud of the school newspaper,” Groves said. “It’s a student voice and their newspaper, and they need to take responsibility for its content.”

The author responds

The author of the piece in question, opinion editor Abby Cunniff, attended the Feb. 11 meeting as a member of the school’s Associated Student Body and listened to parent feedback. Doing so, she said, made her realize there is a “seemingly significant and very vocal” group of parents who found the article “offensive and insulting to their personal beliefs and values.”

In a letter to the Town Crier, Cunniff wrote, “The article explores topics briefly covered in sex education classes that I felt needed more specificity to be relevant to student life. 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.”

Cunniff added that she was saddened that parents feel she “wrote with malevolence.”

“The intention of my article was to promote safe, healthy sex for those who wish to become or already are sexually active,” she noted. “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 only wanted to provide information for those who want to know more about having safe, healthy sex.”

The Oracle’s adviser, Amy Beare, said in a statement that the paper’s student staff is “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.”

She added that she and the staff “made mistakes in this issue that we regret and we will move forward with greater care to ensure that we are true to our goal of provoking thought, not outrage.”

Town Crier editorial intern Zoe Morgan contributed to this report.

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