Our Opinion: Save sex education for high school health, not science, classes

October 15th, 2015 2:35 pm

A teacher apparently gave an unexpected lesson about masturbation to a ninth-grade science class in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, resulting in the teacher’s suspension and a flurry of questions.

For starters, what possibly – in the mind of this ill-advised educator – was the relevant science principle? Friction?

“The teacher admitted it was a lapse in judgment,” the school district’s solicitor told the Times Leader this week.

The educator, a woman whose name was not released by the district, supposedly showed a video available on YouTube that describes benefits of self-pleasuring but is neither pornographic nor visually explicit. A decision had not been made as of Tuesday on further disciplinary action. Meanwhile, district officials had suspended the teacher after the September incident, notified parents and even contacted relevant agencies to fulfill the district’s obligations for reporting possible child abuse.

The situation fueled debate among some area residents about sex education and the appropriate grade levels at which to introduce certain sensitive topics. That’s an important discussion but, in this case, a secondary matter.

The teacher, if events occurred as they have been described, crossed a line by presenting material outside the scope of the class. Isn’t ninth-grade science supposed to involve discussions about the differences between solutions, suspensions and colloids? Perhaps expose students to the periodic table?

“This was not a health class,” Solicitor Ray Wendolowski said. “(The video) clearly wasn’t related to the curriculum; anyone who viewed it would see that.”

Further, the teacher’s supervisors seemingly were not made aware the video would be shown, much less did the students’ parents and caretakers receive an opportunity to preview it and weigh in.

We don’t aim to sound Puritanical. For the health and emotional well-being of children and teenagers, they should receive age-specific lessons about their bodies, sex and relationships. That education should begin very early; in too many circumstances, what young people learn about sex is derived from information shared between classmates or encountered on the Internet, much of which can be flat wrong.

The proper venue, beyond the home and house of worship, for teaching ninth-graders about sex is a health or physical education-related class. There, the lessons should stick to an approved curriculum – one agreed upon through collaboration between professionals in the classroom and people in the community.