The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Editor and former adviser of MVHS newspaper threaten to sue over alleged censorship

The+yearbook+photo+of+the+2022%E2%80%932023+Mountain+View+High+School+Oracle+newspaper+staff.
Courtesy Myesha Phukan
The yearbook photo of the 2022–2023 Mountain View High School Oracle newspaper staff.

The current co-Editor-in-Chief Hanna Olson and former adviser of Mountain View High School student newspaper The Oracle Carla Gomez are threatening to sue MVHS for allegedly retaliating after The Oracle published an in-depth investigation into sexual harassment. They claim the school’s choices last spring to remove Gomez as The Oracle’s adviser and eliminate MVHS’s introductory journalism class, in addition to MVHS Principal Kip Glazer’s involvement with the article pre-publication, constitute illegal censorship.

Gomez and Hanna believe MVHS violated their First Amendment rights and California protections for student journalists. They are being represented pro bono by First Amendment attorney Jean-Paul Jassy and his law firm Jassy Vick Carolan. Gomez declined to comment, directing The Talon to Jassy.

“My initial read is that there’s a very serious concern here,” Jassy said. “We’re still seriously examining this issue, and there’s a serious chance that we’ll move forward with legal action.” 

The Alleged Censorship

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On Wednesday, September 27, Jassy sent the Mountain View–Los Altos School District a letter detailing the alleged censorship. The letter explained how Gomez was first contacted by MVHS administration in March and was told that Glazer would not allow The Oracle to publish the name of a student identified as a serial sexual harasser. Gomez’s refusal to tell Oracle staff to remove the name — which she saw as overstepping her role as adviser — led to Glazer visiting the journalism classroom the next week, where she reportedly told students that The Oracle should be “uplifting” to the community and write about MVHS in a positive light. 

I wish the conduct from admin had been different, especially the meeting with the class in which [Glazer], in my opinion, fearmongered. [Glazer] tried to make us scared. ‘You guys are gonna harm the community, you’re doing harm by reporting.’ I thought that was very poor conduct.

— co-Editor-in-Chief Hanna Olson

“I wish the conduct from admin had been different, especially the meeting with the class in which [Glazer], in my opinion, fearmongered,” Hanna said. “[Glazer] tried to make us scared. ‘You guys are gonna harm the community, you’re doing harm by reporting.’ I thought that was very poor conduct.”

That evening, Glazer visited the journalism classroom again, speaking privately to the writers of the sexual harassment article, Oracle co-In Depth editors sophomore Renuka Mungee and junior Myesha Phukan, senior Siona Mohan and Hayes Duenow ‘23. Glazer repeated that the article’s publication would lead to “catastrophic consequences” and that it was a privilege for the school to have a journalism program.

The next evening, Glazer visited the Oracle again after reading a draft of the article and shared edits that removed specific descriptions of sexual harassment. Renuka and Myesha believe Glazer’s visits, while not constituting direct censorship, pressured them to make edits to the article they now regret.

“We were kind of confused and kind of scared of what her implications were,” Renuka said. “Was the entire Oracle going to get in trouble? Were we individually going to get in trouble for publishing it? I think we felt compelled to remove certain details because we were scared of what her reaction would be or what the consequences would be.”

We were kind of confused and kind of scared of what her implications were. Was the entire Oracle going to get in trouble? Were we individually going to get in trouble for publishing it? I think we felt compelled to remove certain details because we were scared of what her reaction would be or what the consequences would be.

— co-In Depth editor Renuka Mungee

A modified version of the original sexual harassment article was published in a print edition of The Oracle on Friday, March 31. Glazer then visited the Oracle classroom in late April, announcing to students that Gomez would be removed as adviser. The MVHS introductory journalism course was also cut beginning the 2023-2024 school year.

“With the sexual harassment article, [Gomez] was definitely fighting for us, and she was strongly advocating for our autonomy as a publication,” Hanna said. “When she was removed at the end of the year, we were shocked.”

Glazer cited Gomez’s lack of a Career & Technical Education (CTE) certification as her reason for removal. She chose drama teacher Pancho Morris, who has CTE certification, as Gomez’s replacement. In his letter to MVLA, Jassy claimed that this justification was “entirely pretextual and false,” as The Oracle is not a CTE course this school year, and Gomez is currently pursuing CTE certification. In addition, Morris clarified in the Mountain View Voice last year that, while he had a CTE credential in “arts, media and entertainment,” he didn’t have the specific CTE credential necessary to advise a CTE journalism class. 

Hanna and other members of The Oracle reached out to other local journalism students and advisers for input on their situation. Those conversations pushed her to take action.

“I decided to attach my name to [the complaint] because I think that the conduct and the actions of the administration have been harmful to The Oracle and the spirit of The Oracle,” Hanna said. “I think all of these changes were incredibly abrupt, and many of them were unnecessary and undeserved. I’m dissatisfied with the way that the administration continues to not communicate explicitly, honestly or frequently with The Oracle.”

The District was given ten calendar days to meet the demands listed in the letter, including the reinstatement of Gomez as the sole adviser of The Oracle, the reinstatement of the introductory journalism class at MVHS and more. According to the letter, since that deadline has passed, it is now “very likely” that Gomez and Hanna, and potentially other MVHS students, will sue.

It’s not something that should be normalized, to have the content of an article reviewed and regulated and suggested to be changed by the administration.

— co-Editor-in-Chief Hanna Olson

“It’s not something that should be normalized, to have the content of an article reviewed and regulated and suggested to be changed by the administration,” Hanna said.

One of the demands in Jassy’s letter was a statement signed by Glazer, Superintendent Nellie Meyer and MVLA Board President Phil Faillace acknowledging and apologizing for the alleged censorship of The Oracle. Meyer declined to comment, citing the District practice of only authorizing attorneys representing the District to speak on any matters pending litigation. Glazer and Faillace did not respond to The Talon’s request for comment. 

The Sexual Harassment Article

The article titled, “‘I just felt like nobody cared’: Students open up about their experiences with sexual harassment,” investigated MVHS school policies and examples of sexual harassment experienced by students. 

“Everything [in the story] was based on that group of writers’ investigation speaking to students, speaking to victims, speaking to experts,” Hanna said. “It was a really thoroughly researched, corroborated and crafted article, and I know the writers definitely felt like their work was being watered down because of the things they had to remove.”

Myesha and Renuka recalled Glazer bringing them a printed version of their article draft to point out sections she wanted edited or deleted, including making their section on student experiences more vague. Details cut from the final publication include a student’s experience being physically stalked by a sexual harasser.

“[I wish] I would have tried to stand by our writing more because I know that we did our due diligence, I know that we followed all legal and ethical protocols, but I think that in the end, we self-censored a little bit,” Myesha said.

The editors said that their decision to remove the name of the alleged student perpetrator was for journalistic reasons. Still, they felt that cutting other descriptions of sexual harassment was the wrong decision. 

At its core, the purpose of that article was to bring awareness that [sexual harassment] does happen and it has happened, and to give people a voice who didn’t have one before. By taking out some of the anecdotes that we did, we kind of dimmed that voice. I wish that we really hadn’t done that.

— co-In Depth editor Renuka Mungee

“At its core, the purpose of that article was to bring awareness that [sexual harassment] does happen and it has happened, and to give people a voice who didn’t have one before,” Renuka said. “By taking out some of the anecdotes that we did, we kind of dimmed that voice. I wish that we really hadn’t done that.”

“The role of the newspaper isn’t to uplift the school or to push any positive propaganda,” Myesha continued. “It’s there to tell peoples’ stories in objective fact, and that’s what we were doing.”

Hanna, Myesha and Renuka believe the administration overstepped by asking for prior review of the article and making specific edits to their content. Hanna and Myesha mentioned an instance in which Glazer allegedly told the writers to remove the word “masturbation” from the article, claiming that it would prompt inappropriate conversations. After careful consideration, the in-depth team decided to keep that anecdote in the article. All three editors still stand by the published in-depth and their decision to investigate sexual harassment on campus. 

“When I look at the research, time, caring and outreach that went into the creation of that article, I was really proud of the people who were a part of that article,” Hanna said. “I’m proud of the students for getting those stories out there and most of all for giving the victims of this harassment a place they could share what they’ve been through.”

Future of The Oracle

This year, The Oracle has been significantly affected by the recent changes. Hanna said that she and her co-Editors-in-Chief have found it difficult to run The Oracle and teach new writers this school year, as new Oracle staff have traditionally learned how to write for The Oracle in the introductory journalism course. She also believes that the administration is pushing The Oracle towards broadcasting, and voiced concerns for the future of print reporting at MVHS.

“I want to ensure that Oracle can still be a source of quality reporting when my brothers get to high school,” Hanna said. “I want to see them have the amazing newspaper I’ve had the past few years.”

I want to ensure that Oracle can still be a source of quality reporting when my brothers get to high school. I want to see them have the amazing newspaper I’ve had the past few years.

— co-Editor-in-Chief Hanna Olson

Both Myesha and Renuka said they stand behind Hanna’s decision to threaten legal action and believe that the majority of The Oracle’s staff do as well. 

“I think what [the administration] did was completely wrong,” Renuka said. “I don’t think that Ms. Gomez should have ever been removed. I don’t think the introductory journalism course should have ever been removed. I don’t think that Dr. Glazer should have ever stepped in.”

“I completely disagree with Dr. Glazer’s message that the newspaper should be painting the school in a positive light,” Myesha said. “It’s not like we try to paint the school in a negative light, we just report on student experiences to elevate their voices. And if you’re cutting those details, it’s essentially disrupting the foundation of good scholastic journalism.”

“I’m so happy [the lawsuit threat] is happening,” Renuka said. “It feels like justice.”

Matthew Kim contributed to reporting on this story.

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  • Former MVHS | Oct 13, 2023 at 8:47 pm

    Absolutely amazing what you guys are standing for. I hope your article is able to get published before the lawsuit.

    Reply