Pinelands Bans Sex, etc. from Junior High School Media Center

Dec 20, 2017


At its Dec. 13 meeting the Pinelands Regional Board of Education voted to ban the magazine Sex, etc. from its junior high school media center.

The magazine, distributed three times a year by Answer, a national organization based at Rutgers University that provides training, resources, technical assistance and advocacy in support of comprehensive sexuality education, had become controversial in October when a Little Egg Harbor Township couple with a 12-year-old son attending the school complained to then Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks about the publication.

Banks replied to the couple that a committee, put together by a junior high school vice principal, had unanimously recommended that the magazine continue to be displayed in the media center. The couple, Peter and Theresa Cardillo, then wrote an open letter to the editor of The SandPaper, bringing the issue to the attention of the public.

“We consider this publication totally unsuitable for junior high school students, particularly for seventh-grade readers,” the Cardillos wrote.

They said they had many problems with the magazine including its use of teens to advise younger teens about sexual issues; content that included discussions about oral and anal sex, “hooking up,” and penis and breast sizes; and a lack of information about the consequences of teenage sexual promiscuity including trauma, long-term psychological issues, post-abortion syndrome and increased risks of suicide, especially among girls.

The SandPaper published a follow-up article in its Nov. 1 issue. It included an email to Banks from Lucinda Holt, the director of communications for Answer, which was forwarded to The SandPaper by Banks.

“I recently read about a parent at Pinelands Junior High School who was very concerned about the presence of Sex, etc. magazine in the media center,” Holt wrote in part. “I completely understand that parents are concerned that sex education may lead kids to having more sex or having sex at younger ages. The truth is that 30 years of public health research has shown that young people who receive comprehensive sex education are actually more likely to wait to have sex. They also have fewer sexual partners and are more likely to use condoms and other contraceptives. On the other hand, studies have shown that abstinence-only programs fail to demonstrate any effect on delaying or decreasing sexual activity, and some programs may lead to increased risk of pregnancy and STDs …

“As publisher of Sex, etc., a sexual health educator, and, most importantly, a parent of a 7th-grader, I was glad to see that after reviewing the resource, the committee deemed it appropriate for the middle school students.”

But other Pinelands Regional School District residents attacked Sex, etc. at the Nov. 6 Pinelands Regional Board of Education.

“You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” said one man attending the meeting. “You better get this stuff out of here before somebody sues you,” said another.

Board member Stephen Kubricki, who represents Little Egg Harbor Township, read a 15-minute statement about the issue.

New Jersey law, said Kubricki, requires that sex education in schools must meet three vital criteria. In must be “age appropriate,” it must be “medically accurate” and it must be “culturally balanced.”

Kubricki said the magazine was not age appropriate for seventh- to ninth-graders, quoting Holt telling The SandPaper in its Nov. 1 article that “most subscribers (to the magazine) are high schools and a few middle schools.”

Kubricki said he had also reached the conclusion that the magazine is not culturally unbiased.

“Do you think the magazine can undermine family values? My answer – yes.”

A report of the committee had been on the board’s Nov. 6 agenda but it had been tabled at the recommendation of Banks. So no formal action was taken that evening, although the board, at the recommendation of Eagleswood Township’s representative Karen Poklikuha, ordered the magazine removed from the general shelving of the media center and placed on the “resource shelf” – where access could be controlled – until the matter could be resolved.

The matter continued to bubble on the public hot stove while the committee, augmented by a public representative, reconsidered the magazine. Some supporters of the magazine wrote letters to the editor of The SandPaper and posted on Pinelands Regional-related Facebook sites while opponents did likewise. Holt herself showed up at a Pinelands school board meeting to defend her publication.

The issue finally came to a head on Dec. 13, where the magazine was again attacked in the public forum section of the board meeting. Peter Cardillo once again led the charge, saying his main problem with Sex, etc. being in the media center was the question of “age appropriateness.” When he was cut off while reading his prepared statement due to time limits he simply had his daughter continue to read it. She said the magazine said “hooking up” was OK, “especially if consensual.” She also mentioned the magazine said STDs can’t be spread orally or anally thanks to “Deputy Dental Dam.” “Keep in mind,” she said, “that there are 12-year-olds in this school.”

Another man, James Ruland, said the magazine had to go. “Damn it, let’s get some common sense here! Educate, don’t indoctrinate.”

Later in the meeting it was announced that “the committee” had once again decided that the magazine was appropriate for the junior high media center, upon which Kubricki made a motion to refuse the committee’s report and remove the magazine from the media center. Teachers, he said, could use the magazine while developing a sex education curriculum but it shouldn’t be available to kids.

“The magazine clearly has a position, a bias, as to how they present material,” said Kubricki. “I think there’s a strong bias.” He said he also found the magazine “quite graphic.”

“The medical (in)accuracy really bothers me,” said Thomas D. Williams Jr., the board representative from Bass River Township.

Patricia Chambers, representing Little Egg Harbor, wondered if the board was considering removing the magazine because it was “offensive to some.”

“What’s offensive to some may not be offensive to others,” said Chambers. “I find this very difficult to vote on.”

But Kubricki said the magazine didn’t meet the state’s standards of being “age appropriate, medically accurate and culturally balanced.”

“I care that it violates our New Jersey statutes,” said Kubricki. “We have a statutory obligation here.”

Chambers still wavered.

“Everybody matures at a different rate,” she said. “One 12-year-old might not be able to process (the magazine’s information), but another 12-year-old could.”

Tuckerton’s Kim Hanadel wanted a motion to limit the magazine’s availability to ninth-graders but Kubricki called for an immediate vote to banish it from the media center.

The board voted 7-2 for the magazine’s removal, with Chambers and Hanadel being the holdouts.

—   Rick Mellerup


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