Public School Bars Parent from Checking Out Sex-Ed Class
Last Thursday, May 19, Eastside mom Jessica Grady stopped by the principal's ofﬁce at suburban Lake Washington High School to attend the school's sex-ed class. "I want to see ﬁrsthand what... takes place during the seminar," Grady wrote the week before, in an e-mail to the school's health instructor, Heather Finerty.
Finerty had pointed Grady toward the school district ofﬁce for a "curriculum review," instead. Once more, Grady specifically asked to attend the class. That request was forwarded to the school's associate principal, Brad Malloy. He, too, gave Grady the runaround, pointing her to the district ofﬁce's curriculum director.
Undeterred, Grady and another mom showed up at the high school last Thursday to attend the class. At the main ofﬁce, a secretary ironically mistook Grady and her cohort for the guest sex-ed instructors and thanked them for coming. The parents corrected her: "We're actually coming in to view the presentation," Grady says she told the woman.
The parents were promptly steered to the associate principal's ofﬁce instead of the classroom. There, Associate Principal Malloy-a tall, barrel-chested man-curtly told the pair they couldn't sit in on the class, Grady says. He didn't explain why. "We were told, 'Here's the deal. You're not going in,'" Grady says.
Parents fretting about sex-ed programs are nothing new-conservative parents worry about schools handing out condoms, while liberal parents watchdog the accuracy of STD info. What uniﬁes parents, however, is their right to know exactly what public schools are teaching. Everyone from Nancy Pelosi to Bill Frist can agree that parents have that right. Grady, however, wasn't given that opportunity.
Grady is a mom with three kids in the district's elementary schools-her family lives near Microsoft-and she does have an inkling of what's being taught in the closed-door sex-ed class. A volunteer-run group called SHARE-which stands for "sexuality, health, and relationship education," according to the group's website, and is affiliated with a Christian group-gives an abstinence-only presentation. "Abstinence is choosing to reserve sexual expression for marriage," SHARE's site says. The group's lecture-volunteers come in for a few of the district's regular 8th and 10th or 11th grade sex-ed sessions-supplements the Lake Washington School District's standard sex-ed curriculum. "Part of the sex-ed program, as mandated by the state, is an abstinence component," says Ken Lyon, the district's coordinator of parent relations. SHARE's curriculum fulﬁlls that component, he explains. Students can opt out of the program and go spend time in the library (as they can also do with the regular sex-ed class, or sessions where Planned Parenthood representatives come in to talk). Students milling around Lake Washington High School's sprawling campus on Tuesday morning explained that SHARE and Planned Parenthood get equal time as supplements to the basic sex ed. Most shrugged at the arrangement and deemed it balanced.
Grady, however, is skeptical. "This is a serious problem if parents are turned away at the door and held back from viewing the religious volunteers," and their abstinence-only messages, Grady says. She wanted to see what the group-which is connected with a conservative, evangelical, anti-abortion organization-was preaching, in a public school, about abstinence. "Don't we have a right to know what's going on in the schools, especially something controversial?" Grady asks.
Grady thinks teaching abstinence is fine, as part of a comprehensive sex-ed class that relies on accurate medical information. Pro-choice groups like NARAL agree. "We would argue that all comprehensive programs include information about abstinence," says NARAL Pro-Choice Washington Spokesperson Blythe Chandler.
But SHARE's program is controversial. It was the subject of 2003 testimony in Olympia. Former Lake Washington School District students, like NARAL board member Lindsay Scola, currently a senior at UW, told lawmakers-they were debating legislation to mandate medically and scientiﬁcally accurate sex ed-that SHARE's programs are "grossly inaccurate," and teach students that condoms are useless, the Pill endangers a woman's reproductive health, and abortions will very likely kill or sterilize a woman.
Grady's research backs up Scola's testimony: SHARE's info is often inaccurate, incomplete ("The outline doesn't even mention HIV or AIDS," Grady says), and spins sex as a taboo thing outside of marriage. The volunteers tout virginity pledges, and use antiquated gender stereotypes, like "it's a woman's responsibility to stop a man because he can't stop himself," Grady says.
More worrisome, SHARE is an offshoot of Life Choices of King County, a network of anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy clinics"-places where pregnant women are given an ultrasound to show them their baby, a controversial ploy to convince them to carry the pregnancy to term-whose volunteers sign an evangelical "statement of faith." SHARE did not return a call from The Stranger. (Lake Washington School District ofﬁcials like Lyon, however, say that despite SHARE's afﬁliation with Life Choices, "their curriculum is presented in a secular way. So it doesn't promote religion," he says.)
Armed with her research, Grady-who has been testifying at school board meetings, writing letters, and leading a coalition of parents who'd like to see SHARE ousted from the public schools-was determined to see the presentation herself. The fact that the associate principal stopped her has her even more concerned.
Lyon, at the district headquarters, says Grady and her friend were barred simply because "protocol wasn't followed." Associate Principal Malloy says Grady "didn't have an appointment." It wasn't for lack of trying. ■
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