Summit Parents Debate Role of Planned Parenthood in Schools' Human Growth and Development Program

James Freeman protests to the Summit Board of Education about Planned Parenthood's involvement in the Human Growth and Development Program.
Winners of the Site Invention Contest are introduced at Thursday's Summit Board of Education meeting.

SUMMIT, NJ - Several Summit parents speaking at Thursday's Board of Education meeting said "political advocacy" practiced by Planned Parenthood should not have a role in courses teaching Summit elementary school children about human reproduction, while other parents said school officials should provide "objective" and "scientific" information on sexuality in addition to the values they instill in their homes.

The Human Growth and Development Program, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nathan N. Parker, was developed by the district nurses with the input of elementary school principals. It was then reviewed by district physician Dr. Amy Gruber and approved by the Board of Education on September 17, 2009.

Dr. Parker added, however, due to concerns expressed by some parents, Summit Board of Health member, Dr. Robert Rubino, and Dr. Elizabeth Fagan, who also are parents, would review the program, which is being taught by school nurses.

"Planned Parenthood," according to James Freeman, who has children in the Lincoln-Hubbard School, "is involved on one side of a very bitter debate on reproductive issues" and the schools, which are supposed to foster a diversity of opinions, should not allow the involvement of a political advocacy group that is on one side of a particularly divisive issue."

A member of the board of Planned Parenthood, Nora Wong, who has been a Summit resident for 22 years, with two children who graduated from Summit High School, replied that residents should have faith that the schools would choose the best resources for the education of their children and that the nurses would choose the best programs.

Financing of some materials for the program she said, would not have been possible with out help from private sources arranged through Planned Parenthood.  There was no cost to the school district for any curriculum materials.

She added that only school staff members, Board of Education members and Planned Parenthood educators attended an April 14 meeting in Dr. Parker's office, which was not attended by parents concerned about the program.

No one in the community knew about the April 14 meeting or about Planned Parenthood's involvement in the program, replied parent Angali McCormick.

She said the involvement of Planned Parenthood violated the Summit schools' mission statement that says the schools should be free of any political influence.

There would be an equal objection, she said, if the Archdiocese of Newark or Focus on Families were brought in to conduct programs in the city's public schools.

However, Annette Dwyer, a parent who described herself as a parent who embraced her Catholic ideals and the respect for all life, said while she embraced her role as the first line of education for her children on sexual matters, she did not feel qualified to teach the objective and scientifically-based material which the school nurses were able to teach.

The name of the organization alone, she said, was being used to allege a political agenda.

Parent Sarah Ragan, felt, however, that the involvement of Planned Parenthood, with its specific agenda on reproduction, was infringing on her rights as a parent.

Many options besides Planned Parenthood are available to the schools, Dr. Rubino said, and the involvement of the advocacy group was a "shot across the bow" to parents who wanted to educate their own children in sexual development.

He added children should be allowed to get their education in elementary schools and high school in sexual matters and decide on their own political views on these matters when they get into college.

"We don't want to invite controversy where none exists," he said.

Dr. Parker, replying to statements made by residents, said there was no grant or partnership with Planned Parenthood.

He also said the school nursing staff should not feel intimidated or pressured regarding teaching the curriculum.

On another matter, Board President Thomas O'Rourke said the board was "mindful of its fiduciary responsibility" in preparing the budget and commended "our relatively young administration" for doing a good job of reining in expenses during the difficult 2010 budget year.

He added, however, that the board's General Counsel had advised the Summit Common Council that the school body felt it was improper for the Council to cite a state regulation allowing it to cut the school budget because the Board of Education budget exceeded 1.5% of the city's total assessed property value while the Council refuses to have the city re-evaluated for the past 15 years.

The board, he said, would not pursue legal action, and he promised to issue a statement next week in response to the $350,000 reduction made by the Council in school expenditures after the budget was approved by the Board of School Estimate, which is composed of council members.

On another financial matter, the board approved a memorandum of agreement with the Summit Education Association wherein the association members agreed to cover the Math and English Help Centers as completely voluntary duty periods which would not include teaching, or asking teachers to do "prep, grade or take home work," and would be limited to issues which can be addressed during the duty periods.

The terms of the agreement will not impact the collective bargaining agreement between the board and the association and Mr. O'Rourke said, the changes brought about by the agreement will enable the school district to forego replacing two staff members who are retiring, resulting in approximately $712,000 in budgetary savings.   

Jefferson School fifth graders and their teacher also presented a program at Thursday's meeting on the RJTV or "Roaring Jaguars" television, which involves students in gathering, reporting and videotaping programs about school and national events.

In addition, the board announced and congratulated the first-and-second-place winners in the Site Invention Contest for third, fourth and fifth graders in the Summit schools.

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