The Delta County School Board is violating state and federal laws in order to keep students from getting medically-accurate sex education information, and it seems to be by design.
Last October, the school district hired controversial abstinence-only-before-marriage pontificator Shelly Donahue as a sex education speaker for students. According to students, this was the only “sex education” the Delta County School District provided them, and the school board and district administration apparently consider this an adequate sex education.
Far from it.
For those who aren’t familiar with Shelly Donahue, she is an evangelistic Christian abstinence-only speaker who rakes in government grant funds by giving “WAIT” (“Why Am I Tempted”) training in public schools. Donahue’s website says
“She is passionately committed to Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to the teen sexual activity problem in America. As a motivational speaker and a leading sex education expert, she is making a significant impact for the Kingdom of God!”
In her talks, Donahue dishes out vast amounts of medically inaccurate information to kids and uses broad, simplistic analogies that convey stereotypical images of what boys’ and girls’ personalities are like. She includes liberal doses of religiously-based, guilt-and-shame to frighten students out of having sex before marriage.
Sex ed in Delta County: “Waffles and Spaghetti”?
Donahue is known for antics like holding up a plastic bag full of spaghetti to illustrate how “girls brains are like spaghetti” and a toaster waffle to illustrate how boys’ brains are compartmentalized. She says intercourse is unnecessary for a girl to get pregnant because if a guy gets sperm anywhere near a girls’ vagina, her vagina will turn into a “little Hoover vacuum cleaner,” suck it up and get the girl pregnant. Donahue lets students know, in no uncertain terms, that people who have sex before marriage are somehow damaged or broken. In her talks, she likens women who have sex before marriage to a piece of used packing tape, saying premarital sexual relations ruin women’s ability to bond to a mate. In another bit she likens girls who have had premarital sex to dirty diapers. She tells audiences it is improper for girls to ask boys for their phone numbers, or call or text them because “boys are built to pursue” and women are designed to be pursued.
Her talks at public schools are supposed to be strictly free of religious talk, but in Delta County schools she told students that having sex before marriage “puts them further from God,” and every slide in her presentation bore a crucifix. (All of the slides in her show display the logo of her speaking business, “Tall Truth,” in which the leading “T” is a flaming crucifix.)
Most Delta kids probably accepted Donahue’s drivel uncritically, but to their credit, a few savvy students openly questioned it.
One accomplished 4.0 GPA student who attended Donahue’s October 2015 talk to Delta High School students said it
“…was offensive and degrading to women and was strictly heterosexual. She compared women who had premarital sex to used tape and dirty diapers. She said several other degrading things about sexually active women, women without fathers, and females in general. The information was far from scientific and had underlying religious messages.”
A handful of Delta High students protested at Donahue’s talk by wearing T-shirts that said WAIT stood for “What Asinine, Idiotic Teaching,” and “Real control is birth control.”
Those kids were right.
What the Delta County School Board doesn’t seem to understand or is willfully ignoring, is that Shelly Donahue’s program and similar abstinence-only-before-marriage programs are the educational equivalent of snake oil. These programs are based on religious dogma, not sound medical advice.
In Colorado and nationally, there are nonprofit organizations set up solely to fight these degrading, stereotype-promoting, fear-and-shame-based programs like Donahue’s, keep them out of schools and promote the teaching of medically-correct, evidence-based, effective sex education.
Programs Like Donahue’s are Proven Not to Work, and Even Do Harm
There is no evidence that abstinence-before-marriage programs produce results to justify their existence. Federal studies confirm this. A significant body of research, including a 2007 meta-study that examined 13 previous studies involving almost 16,000 youth, showed these programs are flat-out ineffective. They don’t increase rates of sexual abstinence, they don’t delay the initiation of sexual behavior or reduce the number of sexual partners. They don’t even have any effect on rates of sexually-transmitted diseases or infections. And states that require abstinence-only-before-marriage “sex ed” to be taught in schools are the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates.
What’s more, abstinence-only-before-marriage programs like Donahue’s are harmful.
Because they intentionally withhold very important information about contraceptives from students. They perpetuate gender and sexual stereotypes, blame women for men’s sexual aggression, and stigmatize women who are sexually active. They portray men as unable to control their own sexual urges and place an unfair and unrealistic burden of purity and chastity on young women. They completely ignore gay, lesbian and transgender sexuality. Programs like Donahue’s send biased, heteronormative statements and messages of intolerance to students.
Delta Schools: “Laws? What Laws?”
Colorado is one of only thirteen states (pdf) that mandate the teaching of medically-accurate sex education in public schools.
Under Colorado law (pdf), public schools don’t have to teach sex ed, but if they do, they are required give students evidence-based, scientifically and medically accurate information. They MUST include instruction on the use, function, side effects and availability of all methods of contraception. They must teach students about emergency contraception, sexually-transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. They must teach students how to avoid making unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances, and how drug and alcohol use can affect personal decision-making. They also must also consider other cultures and sexual orientations, and respect these differences in their curriculum. The law also gives parents the ability to opt their children out of such a presentation.
These are legal requirements, not options or choices, and these requirements pertain to every single public school in the state, regardless of location, or where a school system gets its funding for sexual education. If any Colorado public school district decides to teach sexual education, it MUST adhere to these requirements.
But not the Delta School District. Instead, they are intentionally blocking kids from getting state mandated information, and culpability falls squarely on the school board.
Living in a World of 50 Years Ago
Delta County School Board members — Tammy Smith, Ron Germann, Pete Blair, Jan Tuin and Jill Jurca — have refused to respond to questions about the legality of what they are doing in the schools in Delta. They are living in a world of yesterday, and appear to be intentionally withholding crucial information from students. They are ripping off Delta kids and disobeying state and federal laws — an unsavory way for a school board to act, and a bad message to send to kids.
Cute analogies about how boys are like microwave ovens and girls are like crock pots are fine if you don’t want kids to have any of the factual knowledge they need to stay safe in the world, be able to delay unwanted pregnancies or deal effectively with moving into adulthood. Abstinence-only-before-marriage programs like Donahue’s, when implemented alone as Delta schools are doing, violate students’ legal right under Colorado law to get a comprehensive, reality-based sex education. If parents don’t want their kids to have this information, that is their choice. They can legally opt their kids out of an adequate program, but as long as the District does teach sex ed, it is it’s legal responsibility to provide an adequate program that complies with state standards.
Repeatedly violating the separation of church and state, as Delta schools have is bad enough, but a public school district that intentionally withholds legally required information from its students, and violates federal and state laws to do it is beyond appalling, and more fitting of a third world country than the United States.
Let’s hope the American Civil Liberties Union, the Freedom From Religion Foundation and other national organizations take notice, and decisive action to turn this rogue school district around. It’s very clear that the District is not going to correct these problems on its own.