PT parents protest sex-ed materialPublished Apr 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm (Updated Apr 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm)
Mary Jo Podgurski
An overflow audience attended Monday’s meeting of Peters Township School Board to address parents’ concerns about a program on human growth and development that is being taught in the middle school.
No decision was made by the board on any of the issues brought up. However, Joseph Dimperio, acting superintendent, said the curriculum was being rewritten this summer and would take into consideration parents’ concerns.
Jennifer Alexander of 104 Kingwood Drive, Venetia, said she has been a resident of the township for seven years.
“I’m a proud mom of three boys, and I know what’s best for them,” Alexander told the board, adding she found some of the items included in the Human Growth and Development supplemental material was not suitable for some fifth-graders. Particularly objectionable, Alexander said, was a list of websites that referred middle-school students to various sites. That particular reference was removed from the fifth-grade curriculum and was not referred to in any classroom instruction. Alexander said she also objected to descriptions of bestiality, masturbation and group sex. She also objected to a listing, that has been removed, giving Mary Jo Podgurski’s name and a telephone number. Podgurski is a nurse, educator, speaker and trainer who oversees the Teen Outreach through Washington Hospital. However, the curriculum at Peters Township is currently taught by educators from the district. Podgurski attended the meeting but did not speak publicly.
The district has used the materials provided through Teen Outreach for 20 years. Each parent must sign a permission slip for the student to be included in the program. Those who opt not to sign will have their student assigned to another activity. Classes are not a full or half semester. Participating fifth-graders attend only two 40-minute classes and sixth-graders attend three 40-minute classes during the school year.
A vast majority of the audience appeared to support Alexander’s position that the curriculum was too personal and too advanced for those in fifth and sixth grades.
District policy prohibits audience members from addressing anyone by specific name. Hence, Alexander and others who spoke, referred to Podgurski as “her.” As for the inclusion of Podgurski’s name and a telephone number, Alexander said, “I don’t know her, and I don’t want her to contact my son.”
Alexander said her husband and she would address any questions their sons may have.
“Our children do not need this information at this age,” Alexander said.
Roxanne Zeisloft of 301 Molly Drive also expressed her displeasure at the literature and curriculum involving Human Growth and Development. She told the board she was “upset” with the vagueness of the permission slip, adding she was amazed that when the permission slip for the 2013-14 school year arrived last week, it came in a “sealed envelope.”
Parent Kathy LaBellarte of 113 Singletree Drive, Venetia, said she was “outraged” at much of the content, detailing sex, masturbation and orgasms.
“This could encourage them to go home to their bedrooms” and try some of the items in the book. LaBellarte said some of the information dealt with abortions, all without parental approval.
She said, as one who is pro-life, that the morning after pill is considered a form of abortion and there are side effects to the pill that the school district has not considered. LaBellarte said she objected to references to transgender, homosexual and lesbian individuals and that she heard teachers were not to refer to the family unit as only husband and wife.
“This is an all-out assault on family values,” LaBellarte said.
There were those who supported the curriculum and the need for children to learn sex education from those trained in the subject. During those addresses to the board, several audience members groaned and were otherwise disruptive to the speeches.
Parent Clarence McGee of 141 Meadowbrook Circle said he preferred to teach his children about sex and sexuality from “Bible-based information” that puts forth “God’s interest first.”
Linda Kelly of Washington was given permission to speak after consultation with the district’s solicitor Jack Cambest to speak as a non-township resident.
As a nurse for 35 years and most recently as a labor and delivery nurse, she said children need to know the correct facts rather than learning about sex and sexuality on the streets or from their friends. Some of her comments were met with groans from the audience.
After nearly an hour of discussion, Cindy Golembiewski, board president, told the audience the curriculum would be addressed this summer. Parents would be asked to be part of the process and they will be notified by an e-mail from the district.
Following the meeting, Podgurski said she has always believed parents make the right decisions about what their children learn. She stressed that no student is required to participate and that any parent may opt out from having their student attend.
Also attending, but not speaking publicly, was James Longo, chair of the education department at Washington & Jefferson College. His education credential are lengthy.
“There is no one I have more faith in or confidence in than Dr. Podgurski,” Longo said following the meeting. “She’s done more good for more children than anyone I’ve ever met personally or professionally. We are very blessed to have her.”
In information provided by Podgurski before the meeting, she said her mission has been “viciously and stealthily attacked” in the past several weeks through emails and other communications among some parents. In the past month, Podgurski said her work, character, professionalism and motivation were questioned by a group of parents. She called the attacks “personal and brutal.”
“I am transparent and open to discuss any parent’s needs yet none of these attackers gave me an opportunity to defend my work,” Podgurski said. “They used emails and nonschool sanctioned meetings to distort and take my words out of context. I have been called degrading, disrespectful, disgusting and immoral.”