Parents were shocked by the explicit demonstration of sexual acts shown in a high school sex education class in Shenandoah, Iowa. Stuffed animals were used to show sexual positions and condom use was demonstrated on a 3D anatomically correct male organ.
A Planned Parenthood spokesperson defended the class as being medically and scientifically accurate. Parents complained they weren’t told about the class beforehand. One said the class was more like a sex demonstration than sex education.
Across the country, in Massachusetts, parents were angry over a policy adopted by the Provincetown school board to provide condoms to students. Students could get a condom from a school nurse after receiving counseling, including information on abstinence. But the policy doesn’t require a parent’s consent.
Provincetown School Superintendent Beth Singer clarified that condoms wouldn’t be provided to elementary school-aged students.
Teachers have a tough job. They have the task of teaching our children not only facts and information, but how to think critically and solve problems. Sometimes, their jobs are made even harder by the legal system.
If you've been alive long enough, you probably remember when the first debate about sexual education was whether it should be taught in schools at all. Then the debate turned to what should be taught: Safe sex or abstinence only. Now, at least in one state, the debate is whether a teacher should follow the law and teach it and risk going to jail for doing it.
Yes, you read that right. Scott Southworth, the prosecutor in Juneau County, Wisconsin is warning teachers in several public school districts not to teach students about the proper uses of contraceptives. If they do, he warns, they face criminal charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor - a misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $10,000, up to nine months in jail, or both.
Under a 2010 Wisconsin law, public schools that choose to teach sexual education are required to teach several topics, including abstinence, the proper use of contraceptives, how to make responsible decisions about sex, and the state's criminal laws on underage sex.
Southworth claims a teacher breaks the law if he teaches proper contraceptive use to students he knows are sexually active. He also insists the instruction amounts to encouraging minors to have sex, which is illegal in Wisconsin.
Teachers in the Middle
This isn't the first time teachers have been caught in the conundrum of teaching a controversial or even legally required topic. For instance, until President Obama made budget changes in 2010, public schools could only get federal funding if they taught "abstinence only" in sexual education classes. Sometimes, teachers faced suspension from work and possible criminal charges for deviating from the abstinence only curriculum and answering students' questions about sex.
The creationism-evolution debate has resulted in all sorts of laws but the debate rages on. For example, states can't pass laws barring public schools from teaching evolution. They can't pass laws requiring schools to give equal time to creationism if they also teach evolution. But, a public school teacher who opts to teach creationism, even if it's included in the school-approved textbook, may face disciplinary action at school.
What You Can Do
In situations like the one in Wisconsin, or any other time you're unhappy with what's happening at your child's school, you should know you have options, and a degree of power, as a parent and a taxpayer:
- Contact your state and local lawmakers and ask them to change the laws. For example, in Wisconsin, the criminal law can easily be changed to exclude teaching sexual education from being a crime
- Go to the next school board meeting and argue for a change in the curriculum so the objectionable topic or topics won't be taught
- Ask the school to excuse your child from the class. The Wisconsin law allows students to be excused from the sexual education class
- Join the state or local board or committee in charge of selecting the textbooks your school uses
You may notice what's not on the list: Prosecuting teachers for doing their jobs. It's hard enough to find good, qualified teachers who're willing to teach our kids. Once we have them, we shouldn't be so quick to punish or get rid of them, especially when they're only trying to do what we've asked them to do.