Leaders pull approval of puberty education program
The state school board decided Friday to pull its approval of a Planned Parenthood program meant to teach elementary students about puberty, and work to give schools more direction on how to handle the subject.
State school board members voted unanimously Friday to remove the Planned Parenthood maturation program called "Growing Up Comes First" from the state office's list of approved instructional materials. The board acted after receiving a dozen complaints in recent months, including that the program was not age-appropriate, that it underplayed the role of parents, and that it gave too much information to boys about how girls' bodies change and vice versa.
School districts will still be able to use the program, but only if their local boards or school community councils vote to allow it, said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent.
"We felt like it was too explicit in some ways for the age levels we were using it with," said Dixie Allen, state board vice chairwoman. "And it didn't align with what some of our communities thought a maturation program should consist of."
The Planned Parenthood program features a nine-minute cartoon explaining changes during puberty, and separate presentations about boys' and girls' anatomy and physiology that use illustrations and animations. The program is typically taught to fifth- or sixth-graders.
Annabel Sheinberg, education director for the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said in an interview that pre- and post-tests given to more than 500 students last year showed the program helps students learn and feel more prepared for puberty.
But Dalane England, Utah Eagle Forum vice president, said elementary-age girls should know how girls' bodies change and boys should know how boys' bodies change, but they shouldn't be taught about the other gender. She also characterized as "pornography" a portion of the presentation on boys' physiology that shows an illustration of an erect penis and ejaculation.
And she criticized the program for encouraging students to think of an adult at school and an adult outside of school they could go to with questions, rather than directing them to go to parents.
"It makes the parent seem irrelevant or like the last choice," England said.
Parent Melinda Lecheminant said she was also pleased to see the board move away from the Planned Parenthood program. She said she believes school maturation programs are important. But she was disturbed when her daughter was shown the Planned Parenthood program, which included the animation of the erect penis and ejaculation, while in fifth grade at Layton Elementary last year.
"I don't know why my 11-year-old needed that information," Lecheminant said.
On Friday, board members also said they had concerns.
"I think we're just crazy to be connecting ourselves to Planned Parenthood in any way, just because of the controversy," said board member Joel Coleman.
Sheinberg, however, said she's confident of the program's effectiveness. She said the program encourages students to find adults to talk with at school in case they start their periods or experience mood swings while at school. She said the program attempts to give students the facts, and those who present it in schools spend a lot more time talking with girls about girls and boys about boys than about both genders together. Planned Parenthood also provides materials to schools beyond what's on the Growing Up Comes First website.
"There's thousands of parents who appreciate the program, and it's really a shame to let a few people dictate policy," Sheinberg said.
Frank Wojtech, health and physical education specialist at the state office, said it's his opinion that the state shouldn't pull its approval of the program.
"There are many districts in the state using this successfully, and to take that away, I think, would be a mistake," he said.
Hales, however, said "the [Planned Parenthood] cartoon is cute, but to me, it's too clinical and it goes too far." But she said she supports school maturation programs. She said as a school principal she once found a girl crying in a coat rack because she had started her period and thought she was dying. She said a child also once approached her after seeing a maturation program to tell her she had been touched inappropriately by an adult.
Hales said maturation programs are important to help children recognize abuse, learn about changes to their bodies, about proper hygiene and to be respectful of other students.
The board decided Friday to create a rule in coming months to give districts guidance on how to handle maturation programs and work to redevelop health standards for grades three through six. Now, the state has no law or rule regarding maturation programs, Hales said. Hales said educational publishers tend not to produce maturation programs, which are often made by feminine hygiene companies.
"There is a curriculum that can be put together for these young [people] that is appropriate and extremely valuable," said board member Leslie Castle.
The vote Friday came shortly after a decision by the state office to also abandon development of a slideshow intended to teach high school students about contraception after it received complaints about that. Hales said the state office also has already worked with Planned Parenthood to remove links on the parent guide portion of the maturation site, one of which linked to a site that included information about masturbation.
O See Planned Parenthood's "Growing Up Comes First" presentations online. > growingupcomesfirst.org