Mountain View High School’s journalism program will see drastic changes next school year, including the replacement of the journalism advisor and the elimination of the Introduction to Journalism course.
Current Oracle advisor and English teacher Carla Gomez will be replaced by Mountain View High theater teacher Pancho Morris, who is untenured. School administration told Oracle students that the advisor reassignment is due to Gomez’s lack of a career technical education credential, which Morris has.
The Introduction to Journalism course will also be removed due to low class registration, administrators said. The class will be replaced with Publication Design, an introductory yearbook and journalism class. Students who signed up to take the Introduction to Journalism course for the 2023-24 school year were instructed to choose a different elective in an email sent by the school.
Both of these changes came shortly after the Oracle’s release of an in-depth article detailing students’ experiences with sexual harassment, which many journalism students say the school administration disapproved of.
While the article was in progress, Principal Dr. Kip Glazer visited the Oracle’s classroom and spoke with Oracle staff, stating that the paper’s goal should be to uplift the school, according to in-depth editor and next year’s co-editor-in-chief of Oracle Hanna Olson. She came by again during in-class production to reemphasize her concerns after speaking with current and future editors-in-chief, Gomez said. Olson said that many Oracle students fundamentally disagreed with her message.
“[Dr. Glazer] was advocating for the removal of some really specific details that she thought were … ‘unnecessary,’” Olson said. “She didn’t think that they were pertinent to the story that was being told, and that was where we really heavily disagreed with her.”
Sophomore Myesha Phukan, who co-wrote the sexual harassment story and is next year’s in-depth editor, said that Glazer also met with the writing team to discuss the specifics of the article. Phukan said Glazer advocated for the removal of certain details and explicitly sexual language.
“Her main concern was … how [certain details] would make the school community look and the implications on the perception of MVHS itself,” Phukan said.
While Phukan said she felt pressure to change the draft, Olson said the adjustments made to the final product were ultimately the decision of the Oracle, not administration.
“We would like to uplift our community, if possible, but we’re not going to prioritize that over publishing articles that are truthful and accurate,” Olson said.
These changes destabilize the Oracle significantly, Olson said. Morris could potentially have his hands full managing Mountain View High’s theater program, which would impair his ability to effectively lead the journalism program. Gomez said that bringing this level of insecurity upon the journalism program in pursuit of turning it into a CTE pathway seems unnecessary.
“I find it heartbreaking that all the work that students have done over the years to create this program … is going to be dismantled to meet some kind of bureaucratic concern,” Gomez said. “If it’s that they need somebody with a certain credential, the fact that they have to dismantle the program to get it is beyond my comprehension.”
Olson also expressed concerns regarding the long-term impact of not having an introductory journalism course.
“We’re not confident that they’re going to learn the same writing and journalism skills that they would have learned otherwise,” Olson said. “To have a successful paper you need people who can write, people who know the ethics of journalism.”
Henry M. Gunn High School journalism advisor Kristy Blackburn said that a CTE journalism pathway would ideally have an introductory journalism course.
“If [administrators] don’t want an introduction to journalism class, then they don’t have students feeding into their newspaper,” Blackburn said. “And to me, if you’re trying to create a pathway, it makes sense to have all elements of that pathway included.”
Olson said that these changes, along with the administration’s reaction to the sexual harassment article, represent the administration’s desire to become more involved with the publication. Palo Alto High School journalism advisor Paul Kandell spoke about the implications of these changes at a Mountain View-Los Altos board meeting on May 8.
“This sounds a little like someone is trying to kill your journalism program, and to exercise control over it until it dies,” Kandell said. “Whether or not the actions impacting the journalism program were the principal’s motivation, her behavior during the production of the article and the timing of this reassignment sends a clear and dangerous message to student journalists.”
This is a developing story.