Gloucester County, NJ
The Teen Prevention Education Project (Teen PEP) has come under fire by abstinence-only-until-marriage proponents at Clearview Regional High School, who have threatened to take the school district to court for continuing the program.
Teen PEP is the creation of the Princeton Center for Leadership Training, HiTOPS, Inc., and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. At Clearview Regional High School the program trains juniors and seniors to educate their freshman schoolmates on matters related to sexuality—this year’s topics include abstinence, HIV/AIDS, sexual violence, dating, alcohol, and drugs. The course is an elective health class. Students in certain freshman classes, whose parents have given permission, attend five workshops conducted by teacher-supervised peer educators.
The initial controversy over the program occurred when three students who failed to get parental permission slipped into one of the classes. The Teen PEP advisor sees the problem as one of “administrative oversight.”1
In response to the complaints, the district convened a school board meeting to air parental concerns and established an ad hoc review committee for next year’s curriculum. Some parents believe that program administrators need to be more explicit with parents about what it will be teaching students.2 Others find the entire program objectionable, and believe that sex education should focus solely on abstinence and condom failure rates.3 One parent claims that the program “demeans” abstinence as an option and that the agenda of comprehensive education is to develop “sexual sophistication.”4 The program advisor disagreed and pointed out that “some of the materials [parents] are objecting to, their students aren’t being exposed to.”5
The district has said it plans to continue the program, but is open to suggestions about including more information in the permission slip. The superintendent defended the program saying that it complies with New Jersey statutes regarding medically accurate, comprehensive sex education.6 He went on to say, “Teen PEP is not introducing sexual content into these teens’ lives; the content is already there...we’re just trying to provide accurate information so that they can make decisions that are informed.”7 And, the assistant superintendent of curriculum for the district said “This is a few parents making a lot of noise.8
The controversy may not be over, however. The conservative New Jersey Legal Resource Council (NJLRC) wrote a letter threatening legal action if the school did not discontinue the program. The group is the legal arm of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, which is associated with Focus on the Family. Claiming to be protecting “the interests of young, impressionable minds” and arguing that Teen PEP communicates “harmful messages,” the NJLRC warns there will be “no alternative” if the “issues” go unaddressed.9 They claim that Teen PEP contains “medically inaccurate statistical data [and] politicizes information,” and furthermore, that the information “is harmful to minors and placed in other contexts, could be considered endangered (sic) the welfare of a child.”10
No lawsuit has been filed yet. SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.
- “Clarity of content a Teen PEP must,” Gloucester County Times, 6 February 2008, accessed 9 April 2008, <http://www.nj.com/gloucester/stories/index.ssf?/ base/news-1/1202289018324980.xml&coll=8>
- John Sullivan, “Sex ed led by teens is dividing parents,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 17 February 2008, accessed 19 February 2008, <www.philly.com/philly/news/local/15712817.html>.
- Stephanie Brown, “Parents to school: Let's not talk about sex,” Gloucester County News (NJ), 5 February 2008, accessed 5 February 2008, <www.nj.com/news/gloucester/index.ssf?/base/news- 3/1202191817285710.xml&coll=8&thispage=3>.
- Stephanie Brown “Teen PEP foes: See you in court,” Gloucester County Times, 28 March 2008, accessed 9 April 2008, <http://www.nj.com/gloucester/stories/index.ssf?/ base/news-3/120668641553590.xml&coll=8>