CALIFORNIA — An article on sex education in the Granite Bay HighSchool student newspaper caused one group of parents and at least one schoolboard member to question the First Amendment rights of student journalists.
The Granite Bay Gazette published an article in April detailinghow little some high school students know about their own bodies.
Student editors decided to publish the story after a new state educationlaw took effect Jan. 1. The new law requires abstinence and safe-sex practicesto be taught as part of schools’ sex-education curriculum.
In the article, Granite Bay health teacher Kathie Sinor said one malestudent asked her where his cervix was and another asked her if she couldbecome pregnant from oral sex.
Parents and school board member Jan Pinney were furious — not becausetheir students knew so little, but because words like “sex” and “cervix”were published in the school paper.
One parent called the Pacific Justice Institute to complain about thearticle. The institute is a nonprofit legal foundation that defends parents’rights by working to ban from schools things it considers offensive, suchas certain literary works, Internet pornography and some school achievementtests.
The institute threatened legal action against both Sinor and Gazette adviserKarl Grubaugh for failing to obtain parental permission before discussingsexual activities with students. However, after what he called “a clearmisunderstanding” with the parents who had sought advice from the institute,Director Brad Dacus decided not to pursue the case.
“This particular group of people doesn’t see anything in shades of gray-everythingis black and white,” Grubaugh said, referring to those who criticized thearticle. “[Pinney’s] standard for what should appear in a high school newspaperis uplifting, and uplifting means, does it fit in the ‘Chicken Soup forthe Soul’ genre? If not, it shouldn’t run. Which is a black-and-white wayof looking at things and assuming that if you just don’t talk about themore challenging aspects of what happens in the world you don’t have todeal with them.”
Pinney said while he thinks everyone overreacted, the student newspapershould set higher standards for issues they decide to cover.
“I believe the student newspaper should cover things that are pertinentto the school,” Pinney said. “But I think you need to use good common sense.It just got out of hand because of well-meaning people trying to supporttheir positions.”
Despite the fact that California has a law that grants students freedomof expression in school-sponsored publications, Granite Bay school boardmembers are looking to give school administrators more control in the future.
“I’m convinced that what this is all about is an effort to chill thestudent press, in a state that is one of the few states where studentshave some specific guarantees about what their rights are and what theycan do and they get to choose the content,” Grubaugh said.