Sex education article in school paper riles parents

Story detailing how little students know about the birds and the bees upsets board

CALIFORNIA -- An article on sex education in the Granite Bay High School student newspaper caused one group of parents and at least one school board member to question the First Amendment rights of student journalists.

The Granite Bay Gazette published an article in April detailing how little some high school students know about their own bodies.

Student editors decided to publish the story after a new state education law took effect Jan. 1. The new law requires abstinence and safe-sex practices to be taught as part of schools' sex-education curriculum.

In the article, Granite Bay health teacher Kathie Sinor said one male student asked her where his cervix was and another asked her if she could become pregnant from oral sex.

Parents and school board member Jan Pinney were furious -- not because their 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 the article. The institute is a nonprofit legal foundation that defends parents' rights by working to ban from schools things it considers offensive, such as certain literary works, Internet pornography and some school achievement tests.

The institute threatened legal action against both Sinor and Gazette adviser Karl Grubaugh for failing to obtain parental permission before discussing sexual activities with students. However, after what he called "a clear misunderstanding" 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-everything is black and white," Grubaugh said, referring to those who criticized the article. "[Pinney's] standard for what should appear in a high school newspaper is uplifting, and uplifting means, does it fit in the 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' genre? If not, it shouldn't run. Which is a black-and-white way of looking at things and assuming that if you just don't talk about the more challenging aspects of what happens in the world you don't have to deal with them."

Pinney said while he thinks everyone overreacted, the student newspaper should set higher standards for issues they decide to cover.

"I believe the student newspaper should cover things that are pertinent to 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 support their positions."

Despite the fact that California has a law that grants students freedom of expression in school-sponsored publications, Granite Bay school board members 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 the student press, in a state that is one of the few states where students have some specific guarantees about what their rights are and what they can do and they get to choose the content," Grubaugh said.

Fall 2000, reports