Sex ed class a no-go in South­ern Mary­land

Res­i­dents hault lo­cal li­braries’ at­tempt to hold class for county youth

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­

South­ern Mary­lan­ders are di­vid- ed about the con­tro­ver­sial topic of sex ed­u­ca­tion. Sev­eral lo­cal pub­lic li­braries had ini­tially planned to host sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion classes, but strong op­po­si­tion from res­i­dents about the sex ed­u­ca­tor and her mo­tives forced the li­braries to can­cel the events.

Bianca Palmisano, a sex ed­u­ca­tor from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and owner of In­ti­mate Health Con­sult­ing, planned a Small Town Sex Ed Tour around Mary­land to be held March 1-15. The tour in­cluded four pre­sen­ta­tions — two in Charles County (at the Wal­dorf West Li­brary and Po­tomac Li­brary branch) and two in St. Mary’s County (Lex­ing­ton Park Branch Li­brary) — geared to­ward chil­dren ages 12-17.

“The fact that the com­mu­nity is so ag­gres­sively op­posed to teach­ing com­pre­hen­sive sex ed is strange to me,” Palmisano said. “I’m no stranger to a lit­tle bit of dis­agree­ment around sex ed be­cause peo­ple have very strong feel­ings about it. Most of the push­back is in re­gards to me be­ing a les­bian, and a stranger

teach­ing sex ed­u­ca­tion to kids in the com­mu­nity.”

Palmisano planned the free tour as a way to give back to the com­mu­nity. She spe­cial­izes in train­ing health­care providers around is­sues of sex­ual health, as well as LGBT, sex worker and sex­ual as­sault sur­vivor com­pe­tency. She said that her pre­vi­ous work as a so­cial worker en­cour­aged her method of teach­ing — harm re­duc­tion.

Her con­tent and ma­te­ri­als in­clude in­for­ma­tion about anatomy, the HPV vac­cine, Hepati­tis A and B vac­cines, con­sent and bound­aries in re­la­tion- ships with oth­ers. Palmi- sano said a waiver signed by par­ents was re­quired in or­der for teens to at- tend. Af­ter Palmisano sub­mit­ted her ma­te­ri­als to the li­braries for re­view, she be­gan re­ceiv­ing phone calls from lo­cal res­i­dents voic­ing con­cern.

Great Mills res­i­dent Ge­or­gia Ki­jesky, who called her­self a “whis- tle­blower,” said she was shocked when she no­ticed the sex ed­u­ca­tion class be­ing ad­ver­tised at lo­cal li­braries. Ki­jesky and other res­i­dents called the li­brary staff and di­rec­tors, as well as lo­cal elected of­fi­cials, to voice their con­cerns.

“I’m fight­ing to stop the cor­rup­tion of morals of mi­nors,” Ki­jesky said. “The in­struc­tor is in­volved in ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties and her so­cial me­dia ap­pear- ance (pho­tos and videos) rep­re­sents her and what she’s ad­vo­cat­ing for. The event was spon­sored by a lu­bri­cant com­pany and I did not like that no par- ents are wel­come to join li­brary’s ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Ki­jesky said in a re­lease.

Me­chan­icsville res­i­dent Pam Gavin said she was afraid the class would plant ideas in young peo­ple’s minds.

“My main con­cern was whether this was a way for [Palmisano] to re­cruit (for sex-ac­tivism), and who bet­ter to go af­ter than the young — they are im- pres­sion­able,” Gavin said. “We have coun­selors, a pub­lic health de­part­ment and physi­cians with much more knowl­edge than [Palmisano] has. I don’t see her as an ed­u­ca­tor. She said ‘any­thing is on the ta­ble’ and the way she phrased her ques­tions and ad­ver­tised her­self, goes against nor­mal be­hav­ior.”

On Feb. 24, Palmisano learned the classes at Lex­ing­ton Park Li­brary branch were of­fi­cially can- celled. The pro­gram was re­moved from the web­site and pro­gram cal­en­dar two weeks ago.

“We had cit­i­zens reg­is­ter con­cerns about the pro­gram here in the county and we sim­ply wanted to re­spect their opin­ion at this time and rec­og­nize that this is a con­tro­ver­sial topic for some peo­ple,” said Michael Black­well, di- rec­tor of St. Mary’s County Pub­lic Li­brary. “We re- gret that con­tro­versy has arisen around a pro­gram that has been well-re- ceived at other Mary­land li­braries. The pre­sen­ter would have pre­sented life-af­firm­ing mes­sages. Still, we have heard con- cerns from some li­brary users about the pro­gram. We have de­cided that this par­tic­u­lar pro­gram is sim- ply not a good fit for our li­brary.”

Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dent Pa- tri­cia Tay­lor Hertzbach, the mother of 12- and 14-year-olds, had planned to have her sons at­tend the class at the Lex­ing­ton Park Li­brary.

“I thought it was a re­ally neat op­por­tu­nity for teen- agers to ask ques­tions about their sex­u­al­ity and com­ing of age with an in­de­pen­dent ex­pert with mom and dad not hang­ing over their shoul­der. The fact that peo­ple ac­tively tried to shut down the pro­gram, I don’t un­der­stand why they feel the need to con­trol in­for­ma­tion that I think my chil­dren should have,” Hertzbach said. “I hope in the fu­ture that the li­brary will com­mit to a pro­gram, they will fol­low it through at least once to see if there is in­ter­est.”

Leonard­town res­i­dent Lisa Gross­man said peo­ple who aren’t in­ter­ested should just not at­tend.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed that peo­ple think the class is a bad thing,” said Cal­i­for- nia res­i­dent Anne Marie Dai­ley. “I would rather my chil­dren talk to an ex- pert rather than talk­ing to their peers and get- ting wrong in­for­ma­tion. I know the li­brary is in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion so I don’t re­ally fault them, but I think the class would be a pos­i­tive thing to have in the com­mu­nity.”

Dur­ing the Charles Coun- ty Pub­lic Li­brary Sys­tem Board of Trustees pub­lic board meet­ing on March 2, the trustees de­cided to post­pone both pro­grams and take time to ad­dress all of the cit­i­zens’ con­cerns.

“We pumped the brakes be­cause we wanted to make sure that we are giv- ing the cit­i­zens the best in- for­ma­tion and the high­est qual­ity of in­for­ma­tion to the com­mu­nity. I was so pas­sion­ate about know­ing what the com­mu­nity and our staff think about this topic,” said Clau­dia Bell- ony-Atanga, chair of the CCPL Board of Trustees.

In­dian Head Vice Mayor Ron Si­toula, also a mem- ber of the CCPL Board of Trustees, said the com- mu­nity and board should not be alarmed or pan- icked by this one par­tic­u­lar is­sue. He said he trusts the judge­ment of CCPL Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Janet Salazar on this mat­ter.

“The school sys­tem does a great job provid- ing sex ed­u­ca­tion, the pub­lic health of­fice does a great job pro­vid­ing sex ed­u­ca­tion and the li­brary would also do a great job pro­vid­ing sex ed­u­ca­tion in our com­mu­nity,” Salazar said. “It is a nat­u­ral fit for us. We aren’t try­ing to re­place sex ed pro­grams of- fered in the schools or by the health de­part­ment; we just want to sup­ple­ment the in­for­ma­tion the teens are al­ready get­ting. Teens may know the ba­sics about sex, but their ques- tions cer­tainly don’t stop SEX ED See Page A9

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.