The leader of a private school in Minneapolis has come under fire as parents are publicizing their outrage after middle- and high-school students in the school were taken on a field trip to an adult novelty store as part of a sex education class.
“It’s just a major breach of trust,” said Lynn Floyd, whose 11- and 13-year-old daughters were part of the outing to the Smitten Kitten. “You just can’t erase those images.”
However, Director Starri Hedges of the Gaia Democratic School, who also teaches sex education at the school and was host of the field trip, defended the decision, saying it was meant to complete a sex education class that had been ongoing for the last month. She added that she felt the store offered students a safe and welcoming environment in which to learn, writes Nicole Norfleet for The Star Tribune.
“What I saw happening on our trip, I thought it was beautiful because kids could talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear,” Hedges said Monday.
Hedges went on to say that while at Smitten Kitten, the students sat in the library portion of the store where anything considered pornographic was off-limits. However, sex toys and other such products were still visible.
While on the field trip, students had the ability to hold discussions with educators concerning a number of products that could be used to engage in safe sex, with some students bringing their own condoms.
The store refers to itself as “a progressive sex toy store for everyone,” offering a variety of sex toys, leather products, books and DVDs. In addition, workshops are offered, including one that students on the field trip participated in.
“The sexual health aspect, there is no right age for all kids,” Hedges said. “You can’t say, ‘All kids should know this at this age.’ There are students that are already going through puberty at 10 or 11.”
According to Floyd, parents only learned of the field trip after being told about it from their children. Floyd then decided to take all of her children out of the school, noting that she had done so out of concerns that parents were not notified of the field trip prior to it happening.
Hedges noted that she “unfortunately didn’t communicate well enough with parents ahead of time” concerning the trip. She added that she had only set up the field trip late last week, and only students who were in regular attendance of the sex education course were allowed to attend.
While Minneapolis city code states that anyone under the age of 18 should not witness anything “sexually provocative [that is] written, photographic, printed, sound, or published materials deemed harmful to minors,” it is still unclear whether the field trip actually broke any laws.
Jennifer Pritchett, owner of Smitten Kitten, said in an email that she considers the store to be “an educational resource about sex and sexuality. … We leave it up to the discretion of parents and guardians as to when, if, and in what capacity they seek resources from our educators.”
Sex education outside the United States tends to begin at a much earlier age. In the Netherlands, the law requires students to receive at least some form of sex education beginning in kindergarten. While sex will not be mentioned in the beginning, by age 7 students should know the names of genitalia, and by 11 they should have participated in discussions concerning subjects such as how to handle unwanted sexual advances, as well as how to handle erections.
“People often think we are starting right away to talk about sexual intercourse [with kindergartners],” Ineke van der Vlugt, an expert on youth sexual development, told PBS. “Sexuality is so much more than that. It’s also about self image, developing your own identity, gender roles, and it’s about learning to express yourself, your wishes and your boundaries.”