In mid-October 2015, a teacher at Coughlin High School, in the Wilkes-Barre Area School District in Pennsylvania, was suspended for showing ninth-grade students a video about masturbation. The video, which was not part of the district’s prescribed curriculum, was shown to a science class in late September 2015. The teacher, who is not being named due to personnel policy, found the video on YouTube. The video is purported to explain the benefits of masturbation; it is animated and contains no visually explicit or pornographic material. It does, however, explicitly explain the concept of masturbation. The video was brought to the attention of school officials after at least one parent complained. Officials reviewed the case and the superintendent found the video to be “inappropriate,” leading to the teacher’s suspension.
The state’s academic standards for health, safety, and physical education incorporate aspects of sexuality education beginning in third grade with benchmark standards through sixth, ninth, and twelfth grades. There is no mention of masturbation in the state standards, though curricula and teaching methods are left to the discretion of school districts.
Public opinion on the showing of the video has been divided. Local online newspaper The Times Leader ran an op-ed arguing that the showing of the video was inappropriate, not so much because of the content—The Times Leader actually states that it believes children and teenagers’ well-being necessitates them receiving age-specific sexuality education—but because it was shown in an improper venue (a science class rather than a health class) and because it was not part of the pre-approved curriculum. The Times Leader also posted a link to a story on the video to Facebook and solicited readers’ opinion, which was decidedly mixed. Some unequivocally supported the teacher showing the video, others roundly opposed it, and still others had mixed feelings, wanting to see the video before making judgment while noting that students had probably seen worse on the internet
The teacher involved has since told the school district that they made an error in judgment. The next school board meeting will take place November 9, 2015; a decision on how to discipline the suspended teacher could be made then.