The Oracle Editorial Board fully supports and stands behind the Panther Prowler staff in their decision to publish a feature article on teenage sex entitled “Sex: Undressing the issue” on March 3.
The article provides a balanced portrayal of teen sex at their school. They delve into several aspects of sexuality, including the religious implications of premarital sex and the legal repercussions of underage sex.
The article shares several members of Newbury Park High School’s experiences with sex. The names of most students were changed at the students’ requests.
Many teenagers perceive this topic as taboo, and thus can be left to figure out details themselves. The purpose of the article was to spark a dialogue and demystify the topic in an effort to promote a positive change in the community.
The school’s administration approved the article, but some parents in the community reacted with concern, even threatening to sue the district.
In response to the backlash, Superintendent Jeff Baarstad said in an interview with the Thousand Oaks Acorn that he made a poor judgement call in allowing the article to move forward.
It’s not always easy, but in this case, I should have erred on the side of protecting student innocence, rather than student speech,” said Baarstad.
This comment is misguided for two reasons. First, today’s students live in a time when the media is saturated with sex and, thus, teens are far from innocent. This article is far less provocative than many images found in advertising, in fact; its purpose is not to provoke, but rather to inform.
Second, Baarstad’s comment undermines the crucial role of student voices in a community. According to California state law, censorship is never permitted unless the article itself is obscene. This can be found in the California Education Code – Section 48907, which states students “have the right to exercise freedom of speech and of the press” in their publications.
The Oracle editorial board unanimously feels after careful reading that the Prowler’s article is not obscene. Some parents may not like the fact that the Panther Prowler chose to open up the discussion about teen sex in their community, but doing so is completely within their rights as student journalists.
Beyond legality, student journalists have an ethical obligation to cover taboo or uncomfortable topics to express the voice of the student body, especially if the issue is relevant and newsworthy.
The Panther Prowler staff published an open letter addressing the community’s concerns with the article. This extremely thoughtful and well written piece recognizes the importance of freedom of the press.
“As members of the Panther Prowler staff, we have the unique opportunity to be both members and observers of the student population at Newbury Park. Because of this, we understand that sex is something that plays a role in many of our peers’ lives,” the letter said.
If we had chosen to avoid the topic of teenage sex because of its taboo nature, we would further be perpetuating the lack of conversation that inspired us to write the article in the first place. Not talking about the issue does not make it disappear.”
The important thing is that the students at Newbury High and those all over the country maintain the right to a free press. While this article’s topic is controversial, it is not obscene. In fact, the article is necessary in a free and safe community of ethical journalism to bring attention to pressing social issues.