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Minnesota: Private School Takes a Controversial Adult Novelty Store Field Trip
by Rachel Cultice, SIECUS Program Research Intern

A Minneapolis private school finds itself dealing with parent complaints after a class field trip was taken to a local adult novelty store during the final week of May 2015.

Gaia Democratic School, with a small, diverse student body, promotes a teaching philosophy prioritizing “holistic education and holistic healing” through an emphasis on each student’s freedom. “Free schools work holistically because of intrinsic desire for knowledge and internal motivation,”[1] explains Starri Hedges, who is both the teacher of the school’s sexuality education class and the school’s director.

Hedges, coordinator of the field trip, brought approximately a dozen middle and high school students (of the school’s 25 total) to a local sex toy store, Smitten Kitten, as the culmination of the school’s sexual health class. Smitten Kitten, “a progressive sex toy store for everyone,” offers educational workshops in addition to selling merchandise. Jennifer Pritchett, owner of Smitten Kitten, describes her store as “an educational resource about sex and sexuality.” Hedges explained that the field trip provided the students with the opportunity to hear from educators about how to practice safer sex and that some students purchased condoms.[2] Parents were not notified of the intended field trip beforehand nor were students required to submit permission slips to attend the off campus event.

This field trip inspired the disapproval of many parents, some of whom pulled their children (eight, in total) [3] from the school as a result of the trip. Claiming that the trip was not age-appropriate for their children, parents argued that they had no knowledge of the trip before it occurred. Hedges admits that her communication with parents prior to the trip was lacking.[4]

Parent Lynn Floyd filed a police report“accusing the school's leadership of exposing minors to pornographic material,” and may also file a lawsuit against the school. Floyd, at first in full support of the private school’s unique values, has now pulled his three children from the school, claiming that this trip went too far. “I wanted our children to grow up and remain children as long as possible.”[5] Although acknowledging that Gaia Democratic School is a private school, meaning that it does not have to comply with state standards, a representative of the Minnesota Department of Education offered his personal opinion: “I don’t think anybody would think that going to the Smitten Kitten is a great idea.” [6]

Hedges claims that while in Smitten Kitten, students were situated in the “library section of the store,” where, although sex toys/products were visible, pornographic items were out of sightand clarified that the goal of the field trip was to allow students to learn about human sexuality in a secure and positive setting. [7]

A license inspector and zoning inspector, both sent to Smitten Kitten by city officials after news of this field trip, have cited the store with code violations, stating that“the store did not isolate sexually explicit materials in a separate section of the shop, as required by city code, […]” and that there were “sexually explicit materials within view of minors, which is also a violation.” Smitten Kitten is required to rearrange the store to comply with zoning rules, having been given no further penalty. [8]

In a public statement addressing the controversy, the school’s Board of Directors supported the trip, expressing that misinformation about the trip has been spread, and writing:

“[…] Smitten Kitten specializes in sexual education that provides literature, classes, products and protection for people of all sexualities and points along the gender spectrum. It is a nationally recognized leader in the promotion of safer sex supplies and human sexuality. […] We understand that sexuality is a complex and sensitive issue, which is why it is important to offer students access to accurate information and resources. We are proud to be a school that encourages health and is inclusive of all. [9]

Hedges has announced that this trip will most likely be the last of its type, although also acknowledging that she found the trip to be a success: “[…] the kids had so much fun.”[10]


[1]Starri Hedges, “Free Schools: Healing and Learning Through the Practice of Freedom,” St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Fall 2005, accessed June 4, 2015 athttp://www.gaiademocratic.org/uploads/freeschoolshealinglearning.pdf

[2]Nicole Norfleet, “Mpls. private school takes students to adult novelty store for sex ed lesson,” Star Tribune, June 2 2015, accessed June 4, 2015 at http://m.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/305770831.html

[3]Reg Chapman, “After Sex Shop Field Trip, School Loses More Students,” CBS Minnesota, June 3, 2015, accessed on June 4, 2015 at http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2015/06/03/after-sex-shop-field-trip-school-loses-more-students/

[4]Norfleet, “Mpls. private school takes students to…”

[5]Jonathan Choe,Dad files police report over school trip to Smitten Kitten sex toy store,” KMSP-TV, June 3, 2015, updated June 4, 2015, accessed June 4, 2015 at http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/29234538/parents-not-amused-by-school-field-trip-to-sex-toy-store-smitten-kitten

[6] Norfleet, “Mpls. private school takes students to…”

[7]Norfleet, “Mpls. private school takes students to…”

[8]Nicole Norfleet, “After students’ visit, inspectors say sex toy store violated city code,” Star Tribune, June 2, 2015, accessed June 4, 2015 at http://www.startribune.com/after-students-visit-minneapolis-inspectors-say-smitten-kitten-sex-toy-store-violated-city-code/305892001/

[9]Public Statement from Gaia Democratic School’s Board of Directors, June 3, 2015, accessed June 4, 2015 at http://www.gaiademocratic.org/uploads/SKpressrelease2015.pdf

[10]Norfleet, “Mpls. private school takes students to…”

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