By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- There was plenty of talk about contraceptive use at the June 19 school board meetings, but whether there will be talk of it in the classroom next year remains to be seen.
“This is not our duty,” said Board Trustee Bob Eisiminger during a special meeting preceding the regular school board meeting Monday night. “They need to be doing reading, writing and arithmetic, not putting condoms on cucumbers.”
“Have you seen a 14-year-old girl give birth?” responded Lisa Kavalhuna, board vice-president.
“It puts an image in their head,” said Board Trustee John Chartier, referring to lesson plans in abstinence-based education in which students would learn how to use condoms by modeling it on vegetables.
Since January, a survey of parents found 94 percent in support of teaching contraceptives and a sex education advisory council comprised of 14 individuals returned a unanimous recommendation that the district change from being the sole abstinence-only district in the county to one that is abstinence-based, teaching about contraception. Students have also expressed they prefer to hear factual information from teachers in a classroom setting rather than hear it from their parents.
The sex education advisory council also cited during a public hearing on the matter last month research that shows an abstinence-based program, which stresses abstinence as best, but provides information about contraception, is more effective than the current abstinence-only program in delaying the age of first sexual activity. The majority of school districts in Oakland County agree. Brandon is currently the sole abstinence-only district in the county. Board Secretary Diane Salter, who had previously expressed qualms about teachers demonstrating on vegetables how condoms are used, asked at the board’s special meeting on Monday whether an abstinence-based program could be implemented with certain chapters eliminated. She also brought up the potential spectre of students being bullied if contraceptive use were modeled in the classroom, with some students more adept at the activity, while others’ inexperience showed.
Kristy Spann, executive director of educational services for the district, explained that lesson plans in an abstinence-based program can be adjusted more to the board’s comfort level. The board may decide that teachers can only discuss contraceptives, or they can discuss contraceptives as well as show the students images of contraceptives, or, as a third option, they can discuss, show illustrations, and “model the use of condoms in an age appropriate way.”
“That would mean, for example, demonstrating the use of a condom on a vegetable such as a zucchini or cucumber,” said Spann. “I appreciate that the board of education is comprised of elected officials and they are grappling with a topic that can be very polarizing in our society and they are trying to make the best decisions on behalf of students taking into account the will of the community, the needs of the students and the existing research about what is most effective for keeping students healthy and safe. To do this well, they need to make sure they go forward thoughtfully and that requires time.”
She adds that she has no concerns about bullying of students based on those who know how to apply condoms and those who do not in a classroom.
Andrea Austin, a mother of three children in the district, spoke in favor of the abstinence-based program at the meeting, noting that kids are already thinking about anatomy and sex as early as the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, and parents will retain the right to opt their children out of the lessons.
“It’s terrifying to think of kids searching online to learn how to use a condom,” she said. “We have a moral obligation to teach this. These tools are for the prevention of the loss of life, diseases, and pregnancy. There is no bigger decision you will make as a board. Ninety-four percent of the parents want the district to teach this.”
By Susan Bromley