In an episode that has reignited debate over what kids in classrooms should hear about sex, a Utah middle school teacher has come under fire for leading what parents said were explicit discussions during an eighth-grade sex education class.
The teacher was placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation is carried out.
But the case has divided sex experts and some educators, who believe that the state's restrictions on sex education are far too strict, which, they say, prevents 13- and 14-year-olds from receiving adequate information about risky sexual behaviors.
The teacher, Ellen Lindsey, is in her first year on the faculty of Fort Herriman Middle School in Herriman, Utah. Before taking her current post, she had taught for 30 years in another district.
Exactly what the lesson included is unclear. But the parents of the children involved have alleged that Lindsey exposed their children to explicit messages and pictures in the course of the class.
Attempts to reach Lindsey at her home number were unsuccessful. Mike Sirois, principal of Fort Herriman Middle School, said that he has since talked to Lindsey about the discussions that took place in her class. And he said that it appears the subject matter discussed went beyond the border of what is permitted by the state regulations on the discussion of sexual material in a classroom.
"It was stuff of a sexual nature that went beyond the curriculum, he said. "Her side is that hindsight is 20/20, that she probably shouldn't have said some of the things that were said."
But, Sirois noted, "She disputes some of the issues, like the depth of her discussions on these matters."
Meanwhile, school board officials would not confirm the nature of the topics that Lindsey discussed in her class.
"It's an employee issue," said school board spokesman Mike Kelley. "On the specific issues we do not have a lot we can say."
And, according to ABC affiliate reports, officials from the Jordan Education Association have instructed Lindsey not to talk to the media for now. One education official involved with the matter said Lindsey has not yet conferred with the JEA attorney on her next step, which could involve a statement to the media.
But some parents have been vocal about the alleged incident.
"The teacher was entertaining questions and expounding on topics outside the state statute," said Dewayne Smith, the father of a 14-year-old eighth grader in the class. "She was talking about anal sex, oral sex, masturbation, mechanical instruments to enhance masturbation and historical instances of self-abortion with a hanger.
"If I met a kid on the street and started talking this way to a minor I'd be thrown in jail."
Smith also said he heard that Lindsey presented her students with an adult-themed cartoon and solicited questions from the students about sex.
Not all parents said they were disturbed by the allegations. And in accordance with state regulations, all parents were required to sign waivers in order for their children to attend the sex ed sessions.
"There's gonna be questions at any age, and I'm guessing that they're gonna have to start bringing it down to the middle school level," Tara Kinkead, one parent of a child in the class, told reporter Annie Cutler of ABC-4 News in Salt Lake City.