By ERIN ROLL
A planned talk at Glenfield Middle School about sex and puberty was canceled after parents protested over what were perceived to be abstinence-only leanings by the presenting group.
It was reported that the school would be hosting a presentation from the group First Choice Women’s Resource Center.
However, several parents objected after it was reported that First Choice Resource Women’s Center appeared to be an abstinence-only organization with religious leanings.
“The presentation was canceled and we are in the process of reviewing our information received,” Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak stated on Friday. “I can’t tell [the media] more at this point as it would be incomplete and therefore disrespectful to the concerns voiced and to the process.”
The presentation controversy comes at a time when many Montclair parents are urging the schools to look at implementing a more comprehensive curriculum on sexual education.
Gina Shaw is a parent of a child who will be starting at Glenfield next year. She is also a health writer and researcher whose area of expertise includes family planning.
“This isn’t something that should be presented by a religious organization in a public school,” she said.
The email about the planned presentation was sent only to parents of current Glenfield students, but was shared on a community Facebook page for Montclair residents. “It was really pretty appalling to me,” she said.
Shaw questioned why First Choice was to be brought in to give the presentation, when there were other groups in the Montclair area that were capable, she said, of providing a medically and scientifically sound presentation for students.
First Choice’s website describes its mission as “to protect the unborn by empowering women.”
One of its services is the “Real Talk” abstinence presentation for high school students.
Aimee Huber, executive director of First Choice, issued this statement on Monday: “We were disappointed to hear of the school’s decision to cancel our Real Talk presentation at Glenfield, since our presentation meets core curriculum requirements for the State of New Jersey and uses up-to-date and accurate information from the Centers for Disease Control and the N.J. Physicians Advisory Board.”
A flyer describing an overview of Real Talk does not specifically mention a religious angle, but the First Choice Friends website — the education component of First Choice — mentions “seeking to share Christ’s love and grace with every woman we serve.”
However, a number of studies in recent years have indicated that abstinence-only education does not lead to a decrease in teen pregnancy. Information on such studies can be found on the website of SIECUS, the Sexuality and Education Council of the United States.
The other issue at stake was the timing for when the school was bringing up the topics of sex and puberty to students. “You shouldn’t be having this discussion in the sixth grade,” Shaw said, noting that children tend to start going through the first stages of puberty around sixth grade. Rather, she said, schools need to start the discussion earlier, at about the fourth or fifth grades.
Colleen Daly Martinez said she was disappointed by the district’s response to parents’ concerns. She is also the parent of a rising Glenfield student.
Martinez has been among the parents campaigning for the Montclair school district to include a comprehensive health education program, including sex education, as part of its curriculum.
“I have personally been bringing up the lack of sex ed to our board of education for over a year now,” she said. “I think it’s a real public health issue.”
“I understand that sexual development is a difficult subject to talk about for many people,” she said. “However, administrators need to provide resources that assist teachers in talking about the subject with their students.”
In April, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair hosted a workshop on how to discuss sex and puberty with tweens and teens. The workshop was presented by YES! a Montclair-based organization whose acronym stands for Your Empowered Sexuality.