A 13-year-old girl in Shawnee, Kan., used her cell phone to take a photo of a shocking poster hanging on her science classroom’s door earlier this month. The poster was titled, “How do people express their sexual feelings?” Of the 17 activities listed, a few were rather innocent, such as “holding hands,” “talking,” and “hugging.” But many were much more explicit, including “touching each others genitals,” “sexual fantasy,” and the first item on the list: “oral sex.”
The photo stunned Mark Ellis, the girl’s father, who thought the poster must be a student prank. But when Ellis contacted the Hocker Grove Middle School principal, he found the poster was part of a district-approved, abstinence-based sex education curriculum. After a district official defended the poster as suitable for middle schoolers, Ellis decided to go public with his concerns.
“Why would you put it in front of 13-year-old students?” Ellis asked Fox 4 News, the local Fox television affiliate in Kansas City. “Who approved this? You know this had to pass through enough hands that someone should have said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, these are 13-year-old kids. We do not need to be this in-depth with this sexual education type of program.’”
District spokesperson Leigh Anne Neal told Fox 4 News the poster “aligns with national standards around those topics.” It is part of a lesson with a teacher-led discussion, which includes removing the poster after the lesson ends. The school has since removed the poster.
Two days after the story aired, school district superintendent Jim Hinson sent a letter to parents stating the controversial poster was a supplemental resource from a sex education curriculum called “Making a Difference!” and its use would be suspended pending a review of the lesson’s materials.
Abstinence-based education teaches abstinence as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or unplanned pregnancies, but also teaches about contraceptives and “safe sex.” Without placing a moral value on abstinence, it encourages students to figure out how they wish to express their sexuality.
The course’s publisher, Select Media Inc., said its mission is “to create and disseminate materials effective in promoting positive health behaviors among communities at-risk.” The website states community groups, health departments, schools, government agencies, departments of education, youth groups, and clinics use its evidence-based programs nationwide.
“This [poster] has nothing to do with abstinence or sexual reproduction,” Ellis told Fox 4 News. He warned parents across the country that even if their middle schools are using an abstinence-based program, teachers might still be telling them about sex acts that are outrageously unhealthy and unsafe for middle schoolers.
The controversy continues online as commentators, parents, and the public debate how much information schools should give young teens about sex.