Following seven parent previews and much Malibu High correspondence, Suzi Landolphi’s “Sexplanations” was delivered eight times last week.
The nationally known college speaker, author of two adult books on sexuality and co-founder of Condomania stores, toned down her show for middle and high school students. A majority of students and parents embraced the comedienne’s desire to inspire sexual confidence.
Principal Mike Matthews estimated that 80 percent to 85 percent of students attended the lecture.
“It was well received and well attended,” said counselor Nancy Pallathena. “After one high school program, boys thanked her for taking the pressure off. Many girls thanked her for her message.
“Suzi [imparts] that we have a lot of false messages in society that need to be dispelled, that being partners and equals means we need to take good care of ourselves.”
Counselor Luke Sferra, in a separate telephone interview, said, “She emphasizes respect for one another, not using another for one’s own personal gain.”
Chronology of the Sexplanations process:
- Sept. 10. A parent permission slip and notice of parent previews is mailed home. Separate assemblies for middle and high schools are scheduled for Oct. 29. An undated reminder is sent home with students.
- Oct. 8, 15, 22, 27. Landolphi presents parent previews. Local newspapers cover the controversy.
Pro and con reactions from parents are about evenly divided, according to Matthews’ receipt of letters and e-mail. The principal meets twice with 12 to 15 parents; the assistant principal leads a third meeting.
Opponents of the assemblies advocate a comprehensive course for smaller groups with sections on human development, family relationships and friendships, personal skills, sexual behavior and sexual health, society and culture.
Parents present samples such as Choices, Saved Sex and Planned Parenthood. The speaker’s lack of credentials and training for grades six through 12 are at issue, as are discrepancies in a resume handed out at a preview. Of concern are 1992 lawsuits filed by families in Massachusetts.
The school nurse contacts one private middle/high school and two settings where Landolphi spoke to high school students. “All had favorable responses,” says Ellen Relles, “very positive.” Landolphi submits undated, one-page outlines for middle and high school assemblies to the school.
- Oct. 28. A letter is sent home with students announcing referral of the matter to MHS Site Governance Council, in which all votes “are recommendations to the principal, who has the final say in the decision making process.
“I believe that our students are no exception to the national average of 71 percent of youth who have sexual intercourse by the age of 18…(National Commission on Adolescent Sexual Health, 1995),” Matthews writes.
A Los Angeles Times Sept. 18 cover story reports federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s findings that last year, 48.4 percent of students in grades nine through 12 were sexually active, compared with 54.1 percent in 1991. In surveys conducted among more than 50,000 students who completed written questionnaires, percentages of sexually active teens range from 38 percent in ninth grade to 60.9 percent in 12th grade.
- Nov. 2. In a “Principal’s Perspective” mailed to parents, Matthews says the program “will be offered after school, with a late bus available to take students home.” He will recommend that the Site Council establish a committee for improved sex ed programs.
- Nov. 4. The Site Governance Council of 19 faculty, student and parent/community members vote point by point on Sexplanations. Four members, including Matthews, are ex-officio.
About 40 parents and students issue short statements to the council; one in five are against Sexplanations. Many say the “after-school compromise” of Nov. 2 accounts for slim opposition.
A student presents the petition of 380 students who request the lectures. A parent presents a letter of caution from Dr. H.P. Pohl, senior associate dean at Albany Medical College, where Landolphi lectured.
An amendment that a parent not be required to see a preview before a student attends the lecture passes unanimously. A motion to hold lectures during school passes, with three members opposing.
The amended motion also stipulates that lectures be delivered to smaller groups, with alternate activities for those who do not attend. Requiring health care professionals to be present, a new permission slip and another parent preview, videotaping of lectures and the appointment of a subcommittee on comprehensive sex education, the motion passes unanimously.
- Nov. 6. The principal’s letter to parents regarding outcome of the Site Council meeting is sent home with students.
- Nov. 18. The Advisory Committee on Sex Education, which reports to the Site Council, holds its first monthly meeting. Chaired by Assistant Principal Esther Winkelman, members include Pallathena, Relles, three teachers, three parents and one student.
- Nov. 20. An undated, new permission slip is sent home with students, announcing two more previews, a complexity of altered schedules and meaningful activities for those not attending the lecture.
- Nov. 23. Landolphi gives a final round of parent previews.
- Dec. 1. Sixth-graders view Sexplanations separately; grades seven and eight see a later presentation.
- Dec. 3. Grades nine and 10 attend the lectures; juniors and seniors view it later in the day.
By telephone, Winkelman says activity for those who did not attend the lecture was left to each teacher’s discretion. In some classes, students are instructed to work on homework assignments.
Despite the Site Council ruling, 15 to 20 local health professionals who volunteered to answer questions are not on hand following the lectures.
- Dec. 5. From 9 to 10 a.m., about 25 parents gather at a Malibu home for an interdenominational meeting to pray for the school. Simultaneously, another group meets to pray on the MHS campus. A few report praying from their homes.
- Dec. 7. By telephone, Winkelman says an announcement to those wishing follow-up will be made Dec. 11 during student advisory period. Pallathena says both she and Sferra will “put together a program, depending upon response.”
Sexuality education currently is presented in fifth grade; in the nine-week module “Decisions” in sixth; within semester courses in eighth-grade science and ninth-grade health.