Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Parents Go After School Because Of Student Newspaper

In disputes regarding schools and parents, my default position is to side with the parents unless the parents are just out there. In disputes regarding schools and students, I think my default position is to side with students unless the students are just out there.

Clarifying, for me to side with the school, somebody else really has to be screwing up. And in this case, it's the parents.

Pacific Justice Institute officials said Tuesday that they plan to file an administrative complaint against Ventura High School for allowing students to participate in a campus newspaper sex survey without seeking parental permission.

Pacific Justice officials said parents in January approached the nonprofit legal defense organization that specializes in religious freedom and parental rights after they saw the Dec. 18 issue of The Cougar Press.

Included in the 16-page edition were articles on sex and results of a survey taken by 1,000 random Ventura High students. The survey questions included ”Are you sexually active?” “Were you sober the first time you engaged in sexual activity?” and “What grade were you when you lost your virginity?”

The story goes on, but you get the idea.

Parents and PJI assert that the school isn't following education code because ed code states that for the school to give such a survey, parents have to be notified and be given the option to opt out. However, in this case the school isn't giving the survey. School officials are not giving or promoting this survey. This is being done by the students themselves in journalism class, and California has some of the strongest student-press freedom laws in the country.

Yes, someone might argue that the newspaper advisor (teacher) is a school official, but don't expect that to hold up in court. That advisor can't censor student work any more than a principal can.

Of course, the advisor does have some pull. A student doesn't have to be in journalism class, and there's always the issue of grades. I would think, though, that most students who take newspaper class want to learn about, and have some sense of, appropriate standards, and that the advisor could use persuasion to convince students to pull a story that might be considered "over the line". But does anyone really want to advocate that a journalism teacher use such threats in order get what he/she wants in the school paper, or to kill stories he/she doesn't want?

I don't think this survey, though, is necessarily over the line. I can see why some would object to it, but it's not extreme. No one is promoting sexual behavior by surveying students. On the other hand, the attitude that "the parents who object are just those who think their babies are virgins!" is a silly, unrealistic argument as well. We parents should be able to have divergent views on topics without having to label the other side as prudes or sluts, indeed, without having to label the other side at all. In this case, people just disagree. It's not like politics, where we disagree but if your guys are in charge I am definitely affected by the higher taxes :-)

So while I myself am not in favor of discussing student sexuality in the school paper, I can't see how the school can do anything other than let the kids run with their stories. It might be illustrative, though, to learn what some of those other "articles on sex" were about. A running column on "student favorite sexual acts" might merit a little more pressure, as that would be inappropriate. I'm willing to draw the line at this survey, but not too much further--especially given that we're not changing student-press protections in California any time soon.

Where would you draw the line?


Mrs. C said...

I draw the line at the student's 18th birthday, Darren, and would side with the parents if I were on some sort of decision-making board. I would most certainly not have brought in legal counsel unless it involved a disabled student who is otherwise unable to make age-appropriate decisions at a high school level. (We have so many other priorities IMO) But I would have told the teacher that I thought the assignment was inappropriate as well as had a chat with my child.

But I remember answering surveys as a kid, don't you? We made up allll kinds of drugs and sex stuff and filled in all kinds of blanks on those things. I don't know if they pitch the extreme answers as being invalid, but we had fun filling them out. :)

Darren said...

The way I read this, it was *not* an assignment. The students can run the school papers here in California and decided this is what they wanted to do.

Ellen K said...

Our former newspaper sponsor did a similar survey. The problem was lack of oversight. It's one thing to ask if a student used drugs or had sex, it's quite another to go into detail. But let me throw another real world what if at you. As teachers we are warned to be sensitive to differences in behavior, gender preferences, etc. So a boy who was out to most of the student population, but not his parents, had a very graphic note picked up. Instead of calling the parents in, the AP read the note, in its entirety, over the phone to the parents. Not knowing whether this would upset the applecart, this AP threw the kid under the bus. The kid was mega upset. Imagine if this had been a kid from a rigid home-the consequences could have been horrific. Yet somehow administration is in a do as I saw not as I do mode. Where do you draw the line? The answer is it depends on who is doing the drawing.

maxutils said...

"It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."
-David St. Hubbins