North Star School Board reconsiders banned sex ed websites

Websites previously banned by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board as resources for sex education, have been reinstated. On Jan. 17, the school board reversed itself after hearing from the public. Most of the objections centered on Planned Parenthood.

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Back in October, the school board denied sex educators access to three websites, including Planned Parenthood. The idea was the educators could submit parts of the websites for school board approval, but teachers couldn’t exercise their own judgement. Some teachers found that confusing, since the board has approved other websites, so on Jan. 17, the board reconsidered the ban. Those who testified like Stephanie Braygo, a parent and secondary health teacher, wondered why the district was not following its own policy.

“It was decided, so I thought, that general sites were not going to be approved and that we had to submit specific pages on sites,” Braygo said.

Others, like former school board member Cam Carlson targeted material on Planned Parenthood’s site.

“This stuff is pornography,” Carlson said. “Do we want pornography in our schools?”

Indeed most of the testimony centered on Planned Parenthood, with defenders like retired school teacher and librarian Nikki Eiseman telling the board those condemning Planned Parenthood were cherry picking information.

“The first thing it said, ‘Planned Parenthood believes that parents and guardians should be the primary sexuality educators of their children,’” Eiseman said.

And Reverend Leslie Fails said having counseled abused and sexually assaulted women it was vital to give teachers access to responsible information.

“Many of the pages of these sites do offer teachers a way to have these very complicated conversations with kids and teens who may be in difficult relationships or in danger,” Fails said.

When it came for the board to vote that last point resonated with school board member Sharon McConnell, who said she is a survivor of sexual violence. And board member Mike O’Brien said the sites addressed contemporary needs.

“When I was in school to be gay was to either suffer in silence or maybe to kill yourself,” O’Brien said. “To be transgender was not allowed.”

Col. Sean Williams didn’t disagree but pointed to explicit content on the Planned Parenthood site which is contrary to proposed school policies.

“Even among teachers and counselors within the district, that we don’t agree on on what is inappropriate and what is not inappropriate,” Williams said. “We don’t agree on that.”

At the end of discussion the board voted four to two to reinstate the websites. Because of the lengthy public testimony, it was the only substantive issue the board addressed before adjourning.

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