Sex education in the land of the Puritans

The Northampton High School student union surveyed students last year, asking them what they thought were the school’s biggest problems.

“We got a lot of people saying sex ed,” said 16-year-old Brynt Goggins in a story by the Daily Hampshire Gazette that suggested students across Hampshire County are dissatisfied with the way sex education is taught in high schools. Students complained that not enough emphasis was placed on the issue of consent. Others said there was not enough information for LGBTQ students.

Massachusetts is one of 26 states that don’t mandate that local schools teach sex education. If schools do teach sex education, the state provides guidelines that teachers can follow, but those guidelines were written 20 years ago, in 1999. Revised guidelines are due out later this year.

Legislation is pending on Beacon Hill that would provide a bit more structure from the state. Under the legislation, schools that decide to offer sex education (still no mandate) must teach the subject in a way that is age-appropriate and medically accurate. The sex ed course would also have to address LGBTQ issues and teach about consent, abstinence, and safe sex. Parents would be given the choice to take their children out of the program if they choose.

The sex ed legislation has been banging around Beacon Hill for close to eight years. It passed the Senate last year but failed to win approval in the House.

Margery Eagan, a Boston Globe columnist who remembers learning all sorts of crazy stuff about sex in her high school, said she can’t believe the reticence of Massachusetts political leaders on sex education. “Here we are, in supposedly enlightened Massachusetts, with backward-thinking, even negligent political leaders, failing to act in the midst of #MeToo, a nationwide epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, and assaults on abortion and birth control,” she wrote.

The situation in Worcester exemplifies the problem. Worcester’s school system spent more than a year developing a sex ed curriculum, only to pull it from consideration early this year when fierce opposition surfaced on the school committee. Maureen Binienda, the Worcester schools superintendent, offered up an alternative curriculum but withdrew it as well, deciding to wait for the state guidelines.

Worcester Magazine, citing emails it obtained, traced the opposition to the  city’s sex ed curriculum to a small group of religious conservatives led by former school committee member Mary Mullaney. In one email to Binienda, Mullaney laid out her thinking.

“Five years from now the situation will be the same or worse because what is lacking here is strong families, good moral upbringing, fathers in homes, faith in a higher power. We put Band-Aids on huge problems and feel good that we are ‘trying,’” Mullaney wrote. “You know better than anyone in Worcester — because you are the REAL thing when it comes to urban kids — that these children are spiritually and psychologically impoverished, neglected, abused. They need love, guidance, support, alternatives to the crap they see around them. Condoms will not save their souls. I am not sure if they will even help their bodies as they are too young to use them well, but I know for sure that condoms will not heal their soul or solve the loneliness in their hearts.”

The situation remains tense in Worcester. Planned Parenthood gave a presentation at a youth leadership symposium last month, calling for a comprehensive sex education curriculum in the Worcester schools. City officials and School Committee members condemned the presentation, with city officials calling it “overly political.”

— BRUCE MOHL

 

BEACON HILL

The Registry of Motor Vehicles stashed thousands of out-of-state violation notices in a room in Quincy and forgot about them for more than a year. Once they were discovered, state officials went through them and suspended 546 Massachusetts driver’s licenses. (CommonWealth) Joe Battenfeld says the problems on Baker’s watch are piling up, and he ought to focus on preventing his second term from becoming “a complete disaster” before eyeing a third one. (Boston Herald)

Massachusetts is one of only two states that failed to have a budget in place by the start of its new fiscal year, which began Monday. (State House News)

A Globe editorial calls for the state to allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses, arguing it is a public safety measure, not a perk.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Stockbridge Select Board member Ernest Cardillo accuses the board’s chair and another member of repeatedly violating the state’s Open Meeting Law. (Berkshire Eagle)

The former home of Anthony’s Hawthorne, a popular Lynn restaurant until it closed in 2003, is slated for demolition. (Daily Item)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Right after ProPublica exposed a popular Facebook group where current and former Border Patrol agents share derogatory comments, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were among a group of lawmakers who visited a US Border Patrol facility in Texas and described squalid conditions inside. (Buzzfeed News) Congresswoman Lori Trahan also visited and reported the conditions are “devastating,” and said the “system is completely broken, and we need to accept that.” (Lowell Sun)

Congressman Seth Moulton warns that President Trump’s trade war is creating the “perfect storm for local fishermen who are already doing more with less.” (Gloucester Daily Times)

ELECTIONS

Republican Scott Lively’s lawsuit against Gov. Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Republican Party was dismissed by a Superior Court judge. (State House News)

Harkening to his upset victory over John Tierney five years ago and taking a swipe at the “Washington Democratic establishment at the DNC,” Congressman Seth Moulton said aside from not being able to participate in the first debate, his campaign is going well. (Salem News)

EDUCATION

Former Michigan governor Rick Snyder, whose actions — or lack of them — during the Flint water crisis are the subject of harsh criticism and lawsuits, was named to a one-year fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School, prompting immediate protests and calls to rescind the appointment. (Boston Globe)

The proposal to build a new Diman Regional Vocational-Technical High School in Fall River or renovate the existing building advanced when the Massachusetts School Building Authority’s board of directors voted to invite the district into the feasibility study phase of the project. (Herald News) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Partners HealthCare is considering a name change. (Boston Globe) South Shore Hospital is considering a merger — with Tufts Medical Center. (Boston Globe) The Patriot Ledger has more on the plans.

TRANSPORTATION 

What’s behind the 20-minute delays on the Red Line? A human workaround team is filling in for automatic signal and switch equipment destroyed in the June 11 derailment. (CommonWealth)

Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu dramatically boosts her visibility by trying to organize T riders on the first day of the MBTA fare hike. (CommonWealth) Wu and Transportation for Massachusetts director Chris Dempsey said bus-only lanes would vasty improve transit in Metro Boston, and Wu dodged questions about whether she is considering a run for mayor in 2021. (WGBH)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Biologist Nancy Pau discovered that by removing 1990s-era infrastructure installed to trap water in salt marshes, the ecosystem in part of New England’s largest contiguous salt marsh flourished. (WBUR)

The arrival of red tide algae into Massachusetts ocean waters has created concerns over shellfishing closures. (Cape Cod Times) 

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A police report connected with the death of 13-year-old Chloe Ricard was made public Monday and it accuses defendant Carlos Rivera, 47, of plying young teenage girls with drugs and alcohol at his apartment, and sexually assaulting them. Right after dropping off Ricard at Lawrence General Hospital where she was pronounced dead, he allegedly threw some items down a storm drain. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Rwandan man is sentenced to eight years in prison for committing immigration fraud and lying about his role in his country’s genocide. (MassLive)

MEDIA

David Starr, the longtime publisher of The Republican who left a major mark on Springfield, died at the age of 96. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)