WORCESTER - An updated sex education curriculum for Worcester Public Schools [WPS] may not be ready until the 2020-2021 school year.
According to Mayor Joseph Petty, the City is still waiting on the Massachusetts Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] to present the state’s remodeled sex ed. criteria.
In an interview on Monday, July 22, Mayor Petty told ThisWeekinWorcester.com [TWIW], “We need to implement a new sex ed curriculum here in the City of Worcester. No question about it.”
“I’m for implementing a sex ed. policy that is age appropriate here in the City and in the past, we’ve just haven’t had one. We’ve failed the kids when it comes to sex ed policy in the city,” Petty added.
Petty said the state has until the end of the year to present their proposed criteria and added that if the state didn’t have a new criteria in place by the end of the year, then the City would consider putting together an independent curriculum for the following school year.
Petty said, “We’re waiting to see what the state’s criteria is. I’m told that it’s going to happen by the end of the year. So we will wait to see what the state comes up with and if it doesn’t happen, then we will proceed forward anyways. If [the state is] going to change the criteria, I don’t want the City to implement something that won’t meet the state’s criteria.”
“It’s probably too late to get something together for next [school] year, but certainly by the fall of 2020. That way we can have something in place that’s strong, and age appropriate,” Petty added.
The sex education discussion in Worcester may have hit a snag earlier this summer when a Planned Parenthood presentation on WPS’ sexual education policy to youth summer workers on June 26 seemingly caught the City of Worcester administration off-guard.
As ThisWeekinWorcester.com [TWIW] reported on June 28, through an apparent miscommunication the Planned Parenthood presentation was allowed to happen and the presentation contained elements of political advocacy of comprehensive sex ed.
The day after the presentation was given, on June 27, in response to a media inquiry, City of Worcester Youth Services Division Director Racquel Castro-Corrazzini described the presentation as a “mistake and a result of a miscommunication.”
The title of the presentation was “Introduction to Comprehensive Sex Education & the campaign to improve the Sexual Health of Youth” and the title slide also included the phrase, “Worcester youth deserve comprehensive sex ed.” The presentation slides [see below] carried the City of Worcester seal.
On June 27, upon discovering that Planned Parenthood had made the presentation -- City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. wrote to members of the City Council that the presentation was given to “approximately 15 college-aged students.” Augustus further says that when the City heard about the presentation, “...it was immediately removed and discontinued from the overall curriculum.”
The presentation was delivered by Joshua Alba, Raiz Organizer, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund, and Adriana Ojeda, Parent Educator, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
A Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] request made by TWIW following TWIW’s initial report that the presentation by Planned Parenthood had been made, was recently fulfilled by the City of Worcester.
An email from Thursday, June 27, 2019, that was provided to TWIW as part of the information request shows that Dr. Jennifer Childs- Roshak -- the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts -- and Kimberly Kargman -- the organizing manager at Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts -- had met with Mayor Petty in Boston just weeks prior to the youth symposium to “talk about sex ed in Worcester and some of the challenges [Petty] is facing.”
According to Petty, the meeting was to discuss sex ed. Curriculum and not Planned Parenthood’s presentation at the symposium.
“I didn’t know anything about the presentation. I don’t know how it got in there. My office had nothing to do with it,” Petty told TWIW. “I wasn’t aware it had happened until I received [the City Manager’s] email [on June 27].”
Along with the provided email communications from the City of Worcester as a result of TWIW’s FOIA request, Joshua Martunas, Staff Assistant & Records Access Officer for the City Manager’s office, pointed out that Worcester Public Schools, the Superintendent and the Worcester School Committee were not involved with the organization or implementation of the youth training symposium.
“The training was organized by a steering committee for all youth workers employed by any youth-serving agencies within the City,” Martunas wrote in an email to TWIW.
When school committee members were contacted by Mayor Petty's Chief-of-Staff Daniel Racicot on June 27 regarding Planned Parenthood’s presentation and the City Manager’s message that the presentation had been removed from the curriculum, the responses were varying.
In particular, school committee member Dante Comparetto was seemingly angered by the removal of the presentation and responded to Racicot’s email saying “WTF Are we serious right now? Are we really seriously against teaching our kids about sex and healthy relationships? WTF! Are we in the 50’s!?”
Committee member John Monfredo, who had previoulsy aired his concerns last year when the school department was considering implementing Planned Parenthood’s Making Proud Choices sex ed. curriculum, replied, “Thank you for the update for the information given out was incorrect and most inappropriate.”
The June 27 email from Dr. Childs-Roshak suggests that Mayor Petty was interested in connecting with a “neutral expert on coalition building and community centered decision making.” Dr. Childs-Roshak even recommends Dr. Steve Ridini - President and CEO of Human Resources in Action [HRIA] - as filling that role of consultant.
Ridini had done consulting work with the Boston Public Health commission, which Dr. Childs-Roshak is a member of.
Dr. Childs-Roshak offered to provide the introduction and attend an “informal informational meeting” between Racicot, Mayor Petty and a consultant when Mayor Petty was ready.
“It might be a good idea to meet over the summer so that the Mayor could be ready to move ahead. I also wonder if having a plan to engage an outside expert to help with the process might play well in his campaign. Hard for me to know, but wonder if it is a way to thread the needle,” Dr. Childs-Roshak said in the email.
She asked that Racicot could let her and Kargman know if he and Mayor Petty would like to schedule a meeting, adding that having the meeting in Boston “might be more under the radar, but up to you and the Mayor.”
According to Mayor Petty, a second meeting with Planned Parenthood has yet to take place, but may be in the works in the future -- depending on the state’s new criteria.
“For the high schoolers, we’re looking for a more progressive curriculum,” Petty said. “I’m no expert, but with the stuff I’ve read it says that you should really start educating kids on this in the fourth grade.”
“Unfortunately these kids are being bombarded by advertisements and social media and we need to counteract with some education so that kids know exactly what’s going on,” he added.
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