Planned Parenthood’s worldwide mission to advance Sexual Human rights is opposed by numerous religions and cultures. In the U.S., Planned Parenthood’s sexual human rights agenda includes the addition of national sex education standards into Common Core, an effort opposed by parents and taxpayers alike. In addition, Planned Parenthood seeks to change cultural attitudes about sex using youth-led grassroots activism to pursue youth sexual rights and “reproductive justice.”
So it’s no wonder many U.S. school districts don’t allow Planned Parenthood into classrooms to teach sex ed. And it’s curious why Acalanes schools in Lafayette, California refuse to allow anyone but Planned Parenthood to do so.
Young people’s early encounters of sexual pleasure are very important, since they can shape the way they experience and express their sexuality in the future. Ensuring that all young people understand that they are entitled to sexual pleasure and how to experience different forms of sexual pleasure is important for their health and well-being. ~Young People’s Guide to “Sexual Rights: an IPPF declaration
For more than 22 years the Acalanes Union High School District (AUHSD) has contracted with a local Planned Parenthood affiliate to teach 9th-grade sex education. This year a group of parents asked the District to end this no-bid contract and develop a new approach, in response to concerns about Planned Parenthood’s instructor qualifications, course content and opposition to its advocacy of youth “sexual rights.”
At the District Board’s November 5, 2014 meeting, a standing-room-only crowd of parents and students gave extensive and often emotional testimony, both for and against extending the District’s Planned Parenthood contract. In response, the District agreed to discuss the matter at a meeting to be held 7:30pm on Wednesday, April 15, 2015, when Board members will consider changes to sex ed policies.
In order to accommodate the large crowd anticipated, this meeting will be held at the Acalanes Adult Education – Del Valle Education Center in room 401 located at 1963 Tice Valley Road in Walnut Creek.
Board agenda materials for the April 15 meeting suggest the District intends, yet again, to extend its contract with Planned Parenthood (See: Agenda Item 10.03).
The following are some of the reasons why many AUHSD parents and District residents seek replacement of Planned Parenthood as the Acalanes’ sex ed contractor:
PLANNED PARENTHOOD’S NO-BID, SWEETHEART CONTRACT
For more than two decades the District has contracted with Planned Parenthood to deliver its freshman sex ed course.[i] While teachers are capable of teaching the sex ed curriculum, District officials say they contract out because teachers prefer it. Further, the District considers Planned Parenthood as a “sole source” bidder – that is, the only qualified contractor available.
Planned Parenthood has invested extensive resources in developing customized sex ed programs for schools. This strategy has been successful in growing Planned Parenthood’s market share for its school training contracts which, in turn, generate clients to its money-making health clinics.
The April 15th Board agenda materials suggest the District intends to continue its exclusive contract with Planned Parenthood, despite the legitimate concerns of parents and the community.
ETHICAL CONFLICT: PLANNED PARENTHOOD “INFOMERCIAL”
Many consider Acalanes’ Planned Parenthood contract an ethical conflict, because it allows a private corporation exclusive access to a captive audience of impressionable freshman students. Students report the Planned Parenthood sexual human rights course “pushes” its services and promotes its sexual rights agenda. For example, a course quiz instructs students that Planned Parenthood should be the primary resource for sexual health issues, including birth control, rather than a student’s doctor or health provider.
Others are troubled because Planned Parenthood relies on a steady stream of clients to claim government reimbursement and raise funds. Parents worry Planned Parenthood’s promotional pitch undermines the relationship between students and their primary care physicians. “We’re dealing with 13-and 14-year-old freshmen kids here,” says one mother. “Some of these kids have complicated medical histories and their health could be jeopardized without continuity of medical care.”
Parents also object to Planned Parenthood’s “blatant indoctrination” and marketing they believe serve no legitimate educational purpose. For example, students receive marketing merchandise bearing the Planned Parenthood logo and learn a chant to reinforce the Planned Parenthood brand, sung to the movie theme song from Ghostbusters: “Who’re gonna call? Planned Parenthood!”
District residents object to the District giving a company license to promote its services directly to students, which they consider a conflict of interest.
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
At the beginning of the current school year, a small group of parents dissatisfied with Planned Parenthood’s course content and presence on campus, began asking questions. They made a series of public records requests, which they say were mishandled by the District, including:
- Records provided by the District were conflicting and incomplete;
- Parent questions were dismissed by District officials and/or they couldn’t get straight answers to their questions from teachers, principals or District officials;
- Some questions and requests for information were ignored entirely;
- The District refused to provide copies of instructional materials, such as classroom handouts, because they were the proprietary property of Planned Parenthood, rather than the District;
- Some materials “disappeared” from District files, so they became unavailable for re-review.
Robin Longchamps, an outspoken Planned Parenthood critic and parent of three Acalanes students (one current student and two graduates), was among those who has requested sex ed records and information from the District. “The District would have been wise to listen to our concerns and give us straight answers to our questions. Instead, they were at times defensive, dismissive, non-responsive and gave us the runaround,” she says. “The District’s botched handling of information requests has inflamed the situation. It seems their minds are completely closed and District officials want to continue the contract with Planned Parenthood, no matter what.”
Many parents and residents urge replacement of Planned Parenthood with a new contractor that is free from controversy and more broadly accepted by parents. They cite examples of quality programs used by other school districts, but which Acalanes deems “unqualified.” Parents also seek meaningful participation in District policymaking.
The District’s reputation for top-down, authoritarian decision-making; evasive and hostile attitudes toward parents; and mishandling of public records requests have damaged community relations. Erosion of public trust and support could create long-term difficulties for the District.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD = BIG BUSINESS
Planned Parenthood promotes sexual rights as human rights and “believes in the fundamental right of each individual to manage his or her fertility.” It provides contraception, abortion and other sexual health and education services worldwide. Some of these services conflict with beliefs and practices of many people, as well as the world’s major religions.
Planned Parenthood Corporation and its network of affiliates received 2014 annual revenues of $1.3 billion. Domestically and internationally, Planned Parenthood is not only accustomed to controversy, but employs political activism as a core strategy to increase its visibility and cultural influence. For example, Planned Parenthood’s high-profile opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision generated free publicity and placed the company squarely on the front lines of the current religious freedom debate – against religious freedom.
Further, Planned Parenthood receives heavy support from taxpayers. Government provides 41% of Planned Parenthood’s annual revenues. For religious freedom advocates, this seems like adding insult to injury.
Notably, the District made national news in January, when students were ridiculed and harassed for their moral beliefs by members of the Queer Straight Alliance (QSA). Now parents wonder whether the sexual rights agenda promoted by Planned Parenthood is related to such incidents.
In early April the Pacific Justice Institute, a Sacramento-based legal defense group specialized in religious freedom and parental rights, issued a press release about the Acalanes-Planned Parenthood controversy. Further, PJI supports California Assembly Bill 517 designed to strengthen parental consent rules for sex ed programs, a proposal some District parents support.
Planned Parenthood’s sexual rights mission and political agenda conflict with the values of many families, particularly those who feel their moral or religious beliefs are under attack in today’s hypersexualized, secular American culture. At the same time, others support Planned Parenthood’s mission and believe no change to District practices is necessary. Historically the District has been unresponsive to those who object to Planned Parenthood’s presence in school classrooms.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD INSTRUCTORS & THE SEX INDUSTRY
Unanswered questions about the quality and qualifications of Planned Parenthood’s “trained health educators” have intensified the current controversy. Unlike regular District faculty, the identities and credentials of Planned Parenthood instructors are hidden from parents. Further, parents are not permitted to observe sex ed classes, in order to preserve student confidentiality. Consequently, the only sources of information parents have regarding Planned Parenthood instructors are informal, such as via social media and from students attending classes.
Two recent revelations have raised concern about the quality of Planned Parenthood instructors:
- One of this year’s Planned Parenthood contract instructors used by the District, Meliza Varsovia, is a self-described “Sexual Health Outreach Workshop Trainer” who leads “pleasure workshops” at an erotica/sex toy store in Berkeley called “Good Vibrations.”
- Another instructor and Planned Parenthood’s northern California education manager, Christina Boothman, used social media to discuss a CatalystCon conference, which she attended last fall with other Planned Parenthood instructors. The conference website states:
CatalystCon is a conference created . . . to reach out and stimulate attendees . . . to change discourse and acceptance of sexuality within society. These conversations are intended to . . . spark transformation and growth for all adults and children in one of the humanity’s most important aspects; sexuality . . . This conference [is] a “melting pot of sexuality” that unites sex educators, sexologists, sex workers, sex therapists, writers, activists, sex researchers, those in the adult industry, and anyone with a passion for creating change.
Both of these instructors are outspoken advocates for the sexual rights movement and active on social media (though pages on some of their online sites were removed after parents reported concerns to District officials). In response from an inquiry from parent Robin Longchamps regarding these instructors, District Superintendent John Nickerson said “the two individuals you identify will not be teaching [the January 2015 classes].” However, the District offered no other information or assurances to parents about instructor qualifications and quality.
The District does not conduct background checks on Planned Parenthood instructors. This is because Planned Parenthood’s contract requires the District to “maintain a certified teacher in the classroom at all times during PP presentations.” Because Planned Parenthood instructors are not left alone with students, state fingerprinting and background check requirements do not apply as they do for volunteer coaches. A proposed new policy would require fingerprinting “of those guest speakers or consultants who will interact directly with students in excess of one day.”
Parents object to the secrecy that surrounds Planned Parenthood’s sex ed instructor credentials and qualifications. They are uneasy with Planned Parenthood instructors’ associations with the sex industry. And they demand greater transparency about who’s in the classroom and precisely what’s being taught.
CLASH OF VALUES
Fundamentally this controversy is rooted in conflict between traditional norms and attitudes about sex in American society, and the sex positivity movement advancing worldwide sexual rights promoted by groups such as Planned Parenthood.
Religious families, in particular, reject many of Planned Parenthood’s core beliefs. For example, the values and attitudes of Planned Parenthood differ from those of many Muslims, Christians, Catholics and Jews on a range of topics, including:
- Sexual activity among minor children
- Sexual activity between minor children and adults
- Recreational sex and casual “hook-ups”
- Pre-marital sex
- Gender non-conforming and LGBTQ sexual practices
- Sex work (prostitution)
The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) has declared sexual rights as “universal human rights related to sexuality.” IPPF “works towards a world where . . . young people everywhere have control over their own bodies, and therefore their destinies. We defend the right of young people to enjoy their sexuality free from ill-health, unwanted pregnancy, violence and discrimination.” IPPF’s “sexual rights” mission is reflected in Planned Parenthood programs offered in U.S. schools.
Some parents believe encouraging teen sex and promoting children’s “sexual rights” are wrong. Yet an IPPF publication entitled “Understanding Young People’s Rights to Decide” states:
With an enhanced understanding of young people, autonomy and sexual rights, we hope to be better placed to promote and fulfill our vision of a world where young people are recognized as rights-holders, decision-makers and sexual beings whose contributions, opinions and thoughts are valued equally, particularly in relation to their own sexual and reproductive health and well-being.
Some District residents reject all or some aspects of Planned Parenthood mission, values and beliefs. This fact is not new – and is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Ongoing use of Planned Parenthood as the District’s sex education contractor alienates these residents. This unresolved conflict divides the District from the community it serves.
Board materials for the April 15th meeting suggest it will be a going-through-the-motions exercise. The District appears unwilling to change.
Ultimately, the District must weigh the benefits of continuing its Planned Parenthood contract against the costs of lasting community disharmony.
[i] In 1992 California lawmakers revised the state’s Education Code to require HIV/AIDS prevention instruction to middle and high school students. The curriculum requires “instruction on the nature of HIV/AIDS, methods of transmission, strategies to reduce the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and social and public health issues related to HIV/AIDS.”
In addition to HIV/AIDS training, most California public schools provide comprehensive sex education, including “education regarding human development and sexuality, including education on pregnancy, family planning, and STDs.” State law allows parents to “opt out” their students from this course. AUHSD provides comprehensive sex ed, as do most California schools.
Each year some parents “opt out” their students from the sex ed course, as state law permits. In addition, anecdotal evidence indicates that, each year, complaints are received from parents who object to Planned Parenthood’s presence in the classroom. However, because the District does not maintain records of these complaints, details are unavailable.