Slain teen’s parents call for relationship ed

Tell Diaz panel a mandate is needed


THE PARENTS OF SLAIN WAYLAND TEENAGER Lauren Astley made a heartfelt plea to lawmakers on Tuesday to implement comprehensive teen relationship and violence education in public schools, hoping to prevent other families from enduring a similar tragedy.

Choking back tears, Astley’s mother Mary Dunne said her 18-year-old daughter did not follow the simple dating rule that a young woman should never visit her ex-partner alone after a breakup.

“This small pearl of wisdom should and can be ingrained in our children as deeply as buckling your seatbelt or recycling their water bottles. If it had been, Lauren might be here today,” Dunne said.

On July 3, 2011, Lauren Astley was strangled and slashed to death by her ex-boyfriend Nathaniel Fujita. Fujita, 20, is currently serving a life sentence without parole for first degree murder.

Malcolm Astley and Dunne appeared before the Joint Committee on Education, co-chaired by Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz and Rep. Alice Peisch, to testify in favor of legislation that would require schools to incorporate comprehensive relationship education into their health curriculums.

“I believe it is time now for the passage of a strong bill mandating developmentally appropriate results-based education in healthy relationships and violence prevention for all levels,” said Astley, who has created the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund to honor his daughter and promote healthy teen relationship education.

Astley, a former Lexington elementary school principal, said he wasn’t always a fan of state education mandates, but sometimes they are needed.

“We can take another step together now with eight other states already so committed and address the problem of intimate partner violence and its heavy, pain-filled, tragic and unjust impact on women,” Astley said.

Sen. Katherine Clark and Rep. James O’Day have filed bills (H 450/S 209) that would require school districts that teach sex education as part of their health curriculums to adopt a uniform, comprehensive education program that incorporates abstinence, sexually transmitted disease prevention, effective use of contraception, and relationship and violence prevention.

“If we can prevent violent behavior and promote healthy relationships, this will be a lifelong skill our students need,” Clark said.

The bills only mandate the comprehensive sex and relationship education program in districts that already include some of the instruction in their health curriculums, and would allow parents to opt their children out of the course if they are not comfortable.

O’Day told the committee he knows sex education sends “some people running for cover.”

“We may want to hope it’s all being handled at home. It isn’t,” O’Day said.

Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, an Attleborough Republican, said sex education being taught in some schools is inappropriate for certain age groups, and pushed for a bill she filed (H 466) that would require parents to opt into the health-sex education curriculum, rather than out. “I think this is a way to induce partnerships with parents,” Poirier said. “I want parents to be able to determine if they want their children in that class.”

The Astley family brought with them a number of experts from the mental health field to testify on the prevalence of teen dating violence and the need for a systematic solution.

Emily Rothman, an associate professor in the department of community health sciences at Boston University, said research shows one in 10 adolescents has been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by their dating partner, and while 90 percent of parents have spoken to their teenaged sons about the dangers of drugs, only 47 percent have had similar talks about dating violence.

“We as a Commonwealth have done virtually nothing,” Rothman said. She said there are at least four evidence-based curriculums available for middle and high school classrooms that could be applied in Massachusetts.

Dr. Helen Riess, a clinical research psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, said many of the cases of teenage dating violence stem from “poor social problem solving skills.” She added: “Empathy is a trait that can be taught.”

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Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Calling her daughter a “confident and smart and intelligent young woman,” Dunne said public schools must step up. “Schools need to keep pace by teaching a fourth R – relationships,” she said.

Rep. Thomas Conroy, a Wayland Democrat, called Malcolm Astley a “dear friend,” and said one of his daughters had been close friends with Lauren. “We can either as a society allow future tragedies to happen . . . or we can take some action here at the State House,” Conroy said.