WILKES-BARRE — Wilkes-Barre Area School District is mulling final action on a teacher suspended indefinitely for showing a video about masturbation, Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said Tuesday.
While a due process hearing was held last month, as of Tuesday afternoon no union grievance had been filed in the matter, he added.
The teacher, a woman, was suspended without pay after what is known as a Loudermill hearing near the end of September, Wendolowski said. Such hearings are part of mandated due process for district employees and for most government employees, giving the employee the opportunity to respond to allegations of improper conduct or cause for suspension or firing.
“Clearly, the video was not appropriate for ninth-grade students,” Wendolowski said, adding it is a video available on YouTube and thus not visually explicit, but it did not belong in the class in question and was not part of the curriculum.
‘Lapse in judgment’
During the Loudermill hearing, Wendolowski said, “the teacher admitted it was a lapse in judgment” to show the video.
“The administration is reviewing the matter” but has not made a final decision on disciplinary action, Wendolowski said.
The district also took steps to meet reporting requirements for potential child abuse “just to err on the side of caution,” Wendolowski said, notifying parents and appropriate state and county agencies of the incident.
The teacher’s name and other details are not being released because it is a personnel matter, Wendolowski said.
Also noting it is a personnel matter, union President Jeff Ney declined comment.
“This was not a health class,” Wendolowski said. “It clearly wasn’t related to the curriculum; anyone who viewed it would see that.”
Psychologist weighs in
Masturbation “is definitely part of a general sex education curriculum,” according to Mary Beth Klotz, director of education practice for the National Association of School Psychologists, but how and when it and other sex ed topics are taught needs to be decided by qualified people coordinating with the parents and others to best reflect the values of the community.
“Research shows when the curriculum has had that type of buy-in, the sex education will be more effective because it is supported by the parents.”
“What we have recommended and what we have written is that sex education is important in school and that it should begin early,” Klotz said. “But there are important qualifiers. It should be part of a comprehensive K to 12 health curriculum, and any information must be developmentally appropriate.
“Because a topic like this creates so many differences of opinion based on family, religious and cultural background, it’s really important to teach it in an organized way,” Klotz said.
It’s also important to have “accurate scientific information,” Klotz said, so that students and families can use it as they see fit.
Pennsylvania has academic standards for “health, safety and physical education” that incorporate aspects of sex education at a fairly early age. Academic standards are a blueprint for what students are expected to know when, leaving the actual curriculum and teaching methods to individual school districts.
According to the state standards, in grade six, students “should acquire the knowledge and skills needed to identify and describe the structure and function of the major body systems,” including the reproductive system.
In grade nine, students should be able to “analyze factors that impact growth and development between adolescence and adulthood,” including “relationships (e.g. dating, friendship, peer pressure), interpersonal communication, risk factors (e.g. physical inactivity, substance abuse, intentional/unintentional injuries, dietary patterns, abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases) and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) prevention.”
Grade 12 standards include knowledge of “communicable and non-communicable diseases” and “relationships (e.g. marriage, divorce, loss).”
The Times Leader asked in a Facebook post with a link to the story: “Would you be OK with a teacher showing your kids a video about masturbation?” Here are some replies from readers:
• Angie Smith: “I would need to see said video to decide. This isn’t elementary kids they are high school. I’m sure they see worse on the internet.”
• Carie Lewis: “Just because kids can see ‘way worse on the internet’ does not mean that as a parent you should condone it. Sounds like the teacher was trying to be ‘friends’ with the students … the ‘cool’ teacher who showed a masturbation video in class … she should focus on behaving like a responsible adult. Shame on her.”
• Linda Thomas Rowe: “Yes. Kids need some real life common sense. Give me a break. Teachers should be someone that a kid can go to. What the hell happened? It’s bad enough the teacher has been without pay. Slap the hand, she’s learned lesson. Get her back in class.”
• Meghan O’Day: “I would have no problem just like the previous comments these kids are watching way worse on the Internet.”
• Dan Roth: “Yes”
• Patty Gliddon Smiga: “Absolutely never”