When Thousand Oaks High School teacher Jerry Morris walks into his 10:05 class this morning, it will be with a deep breath and jangled nerves.
He will look out at 40 seniors and eventually utter the words "grope," "affair" and "oral sex," possibly for the first time in his decades-long teaching career.
Morris isn't a sex education teacher. He is a government teacher.
But in the past few weeks, the rules of teaching government, history and current events have changed.
With the release of independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr's report accusing President Clinton of sex, lies and wrongdoing, many teachers are discovering that topics they previously never would have broached in a high school classroom are now part of the mainstream.
From Thousand Oaks to Ojai, many of them are designing lesson plans on the Starr report--something of an irony given the report's text is so graphic that most students can't access it with school Internet accounts because of blocking software.
That leaves teachers such as Morris in the odd role of serving as a conduit and a filter for possibly the most important civics lesson his students will ever sit in on: the impeachment process in action.
"These children are no longer children--they are mature enough to handle this," Morris said Tuesday, after taking his class through the process and timeline of an impeachment inquiry and outlining various investigations into Clinton's administration.
"Tomorrow, we'll get into the grounds for impeachment, the legal definition of sexual relations [from the Paula Jones civil suit] and the issue of whether oral sex meets that definition," he said. "We'll address this in an overview. My concern is going to be if they ask specific questions. How far do you go?
"If someone says something that's inappropriate, I'll tell them it's inappropriate and we'll move on."
Morris is among a handful of Ventura County teachers grappling with how to address the Starr report without asking students to take home parental permission slips. So far, administrators and teachers say they have heard little from parents on the matter.
While television pundits and dinner-table commentators around the country discuss the president's sex life in Technicolor detail, Jim Sargent, an American history teacher at Ventura High, is sticking to safer subject matter: Identifying and evaluating evidence, the malleable nature of history, what adds up to an impeachable offense and how media handle scandals.
"When big things happen and big changes occur, I feel excited as a history teacher. At the same time, I'm very careful not to [address] the sexual part of it--to make sure I keep my job," Sargent said, half-joking.
From the president's legal woes, teachers can legitimately launch into lessons on the Constitution, privacy, honesty, impeachment, Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair, they stress.
"Clearly, you have a teachable moment about democracy and our processes and our Constitution--all of those can be talked about," Conejo Valley Assistant Supt. Richard Simpson said. "You can do all that without going into every lurid detail."
As Thousand Oaks' Morris has learned this week, the president's sins can be a teacher's blessing.
Rather than aimlessly scrawling notes or thinking about the homecoming dance, Morris' teenage charges sat rapt with attention during Tuesday's lesson--peppering him with questions:
Why doesn't the Starr report address the land deal known as Whitewater, as that is what the independent prosecutor was initially charged with investigating? Why would the Republican-led House of Representatives put the report on the Internet when its content would have violated the Communications Decency Act the House championed? How can the country trust the president if his wife cannot?
After class, the questions continued.
Nordhoff High School teacher Kimberly Hoj anticipates a similar reaction when she discusses the Starr report with her senior government class today. She has deferred the lesson thus far so she can read up on the topic.
She hopes that addressing the Starr report from a variety of perspectives will help cultivate informed voters.
"They're at an age where they're starting to look at people and institutions and authority in our society critically," she said. "This situation will encourage critical thinking because it mixes the idea of the personal and the political. . . .
"I see it as an opportunity to look at how laws are written, the role of the media in our country and why it is that not too many people are saying, 'I want to run for office' anymore."
An inappropriate question or a back-of-the-classroom snicker on the report's more salacious sections is to be expected, Hoj predicted.
"I've taught family life off and on for five years," she said. "So if something were to come up, I'm well-equipped to talk about that too."
Even younger students have the capacity to learn something from events consuming Capitol Hill, said Carol Bartell, dean of Cal Lutheran University's education department.