The state superintendent’s office is unfairly blocking an abstinence-based sex education program from public schools, according to parents who filed suit in Olympia.
The 34 plaintiffs, mostly parents from Bellevue, Colville and Liberty school districts, want a new review of the sex ed program Teen-Aid. The parents tried in vain to get their school boards to adopt the program.
Some school districts were willing to try Teen-Aid until the state superintendent’s office told them the materials contained sex bias, said LeAnna Benn, director of Teen-Aid Inc.
Teen-Aid is a nonprofit agency based in Spokane that sells its materials to schools across the country.
The state’s sex bias complaints were nitpicking, Benn said.
For example, a drawing of a bicycle was counted as a male symbol because it was a boy’s-style bike. The word “manmade” was called sexist. Drawings of a globe, pencils, a soccer ball and a car were counted as “male objects.”
“That’s the caliber of all of them,” Benn said.
“It was a politically correct kind of thing they were doing,” said Colville parent Esther Trusler, a plaintiff. “I don’t think they had the children’s best interests at heart.”
State law requires districts to review educational materials for sex discrimination, said Darcy Lees, state equity education supervisor.
Lees’ office gives guidelines and sometimes reviews materials at a district’s request. But its advice isn’t binding.
The Teen-Aid materials emphasize traditional roles for women and men, and give girls more responsibility for saying “no” to sexual intercourse, Lees said.
Benn denied that charge.
“The language is totally neutral. We use the ‘you’ form, or we use ‘him-her,”’ Benn said. “(Lees) obviously has a bias against us and it has nothing to do with actual words or content.”
Lees is named as a defendant along with state Superintendent Judith Billings in the suit filed June 1.
Teen-Aid made changes in response to the state’s sex-bias critiques, but now the state won’t review the revisions, Benn said.
Liberty School District, south of Spokane, used Teen-Aid in its high school until recently.
When parents asked to expand the program into the middle school, a district committee discovered that the state Department of Health had found medical inaccuracies in the Teen-Aid materials and that the state superintendent had found sex bias in it.
The school board adopted other programs instead, which angered Teen-Aid supporters, said Liberty Superintendent Armin Vogt.
“They wanted us to adopt (TeenAid) and bring suit and challenge the Superintendent of Public Instruction,” Vogt said.
“We told them, ‘We don’t want to have anything to do with that. You’re not going to drag us into this.’ We’re not going to do their dirty work for them.”
Nine of the plaintiffs are Liberty School District residents.
Teen-Aid has a committed following among some parents because it stresses values and parent-child communication.
“It’s a good program because it doesn’t just teach the nuts and bolts. It also teaches value for self and caring for other people,” said Johnna Horlacher, a Liberty parent and a plaintiff.
The lawsuit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, does not mention medical accuracy.
State reviews say Teen-Aid materials include inaccurate symptoms for AIDS, do not describe proper condom use as “highly effective” for preventing HIV transmission, and exaggerate a theoretical risk of infection from kissing.
Teen-Aid has refused to make those changes, saying national experts have proclaimed the program accurate.
“Those are philosophical challenges,” Benn said. “Those are not medical accuracy issues at all.”
The lawsuit says the state’s highest education office told local school boards that using the Teen-Aid materials would result in loss of money.
“I think what you’re going to find when all this is out is the scrutiny applied to Teen-Aid material has been substantially unfair,” said Spokane attorney Bill Parker, who is representing the plaintiffs.
Benn is not a plaintiff, but she helped organize the suit.
Retired state Supreme Court Justice William Goodloe is among the plaintiffs.
Goodloe recently abandoned a suit he had organized against Seattle School District over its sex education programs, which he contended taught homosexual sex to children.
Benn helped Goodloe prepare for that suit, he said.
“I told her anything I could do to help, just call, and she did,” said the 75-year-old former judge. “I’m enthusiastically in her corner.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The plaintiffs The Teen-Aid lawsuit has 34 plaintiffs. Their attorney, Bill Parker of Spokane, expects more to join the suit. Eastern Washington residents who are plaintiffs are Sally DeSpain, Gail McDowell, Esther Trusler, Roxanne Sitler, Tim Goble and Diana Blume of Colville; Tamara Akins, Paula Cooper, Gail Johnson, Ruth Ryan and Barbara Smith of Spokane; Scott and Pamela Richards of Latah; Johnna Horlacher of Tekoa; Dee Kern of Spangle; Autumn Banks of Walla Walla; and Karen Betishko of Richland.