Home > Essays > Preview of Coming Attractions in States with Laws Forbidding the “Teaching of Controversial Subjects”: Dalton Health and Wellness Curriculum Teacher Resigns After Being Muddied Because of the Complaints of Two Parents.

Preview of Coming Attractions in States with Laws Forbidding the “Teaching of Controversial Subjects”: Dalton Health and Wellness Curriculum Teacher Resigns After Being Muddied Because of the Complaints of Two Parents.

July 12, 2021

The NYTimes Style Section recently featured a profile of Dalton educator Justine Ang Fonte, who resigned under a cloud after her name was dragged through the mud by the NY Post. Why? Because after accepting an offer in May to teach a Zoom to teach two Zoom sessions, on pornography literacy and consent, to its juniors and seniors at a Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School on the Upper West Side in May, two parents complained about the content of the lessons. Then…. 

About a week later, she woke up to find herself featured in The New York Post: “Students and parents reel after class on ‘porn literacy,’” said the headline. That story was followed by another soon after: “Dalton parents enraged over ‘masturbation’ videos for first graders.” The articles included screen shots from Ms. Fonte’s lessons, a possibility in the Zoom-classroom world.

Versions of the articles appeared in The Sun, The Daily Mail and on Fox News.

Neither the school that invited her to offer the course nor Dalton, the school where she worked, offered any support for her. She subsequently found herself in the cross hairs of anti-sex education advocates, many of whom offered unwelcome and unwholesome responses to the news accounts they read. And who were the parents who complained? 

The Post linked one of its sources to an Instagram account called @SpeakUpCGPS, which was created in May and has more than 100 posts targeting “diversity, equity and inclusion” and critical race theory. Earlier this month, the account’s Instagram bio included a link to a petition for parents, students, donors, trustees, alumni, faculty and staff at the school.

The petition complains about “programming that uses the oppressor-oppressed narrative and that employs collective guilt to shame white students.” It claims that employees of Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School are laying the “groundwork” for “a race-focused ideology.” As evidence, the petition points to anti-racist statements posted in classrooms, as well as the creation of an Equity Day and affinity groups.

It seems that Ms. Fonte’s lessons on sexuality pushed the buttons of the same groups who are offended by lessons on “diversity, equity and inclusion”. And if a singular Instagram account is insufficient evidence of external forces at work, there’s this:

In another example, in June, trucks plastered with billboards circled several private schools in New York City, including Dalton, where Ms. Fonte was still employed at the time, carrying statements like: “Diversity Not Indoctrination” and “Woke School? Speak Out.”

The group that claimed responsibility for the mobile protest is Prep School Accountability, which on its website says it is made up of “concerned parents.” Behind the group is the Center for Organizational Research and Education, a nonprofit led by Richard Berman, who in the past has led campaigns against the Humane Society and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

On its website, the Center for Organizational Research and Education lists several other areas of pursuit, including “Uncovering the Truth About Big Green’s Agenda” and “Fighting Radical Activists One Fact at a Time.”

And Ms. Fonte was not just exposed to the relatively impersonal critiques of right leaning media outlets and anti-diversity and anti-sex education activists. She received violent threats in her email inbox and anonymously harassed on social media. 

The article provided evidence that the lessons Ms. Fonte offered were age appropriate, supported by the medical and mental health communities, and— in most states, including New York— supported by curriculum standards. 

When I read this article I could not help but wonder how sex education will function going forward in New Hampshire, which is one of a handful of States that recently enacted laws forbidding instruction in “divisive topics”. Clearly the lessons Ms. Fonte offered to juniors and seniors on “pornography and consent” are hot button topics that could divide a community…. and just as clearly there are some school boards and school administrators who might find them offensive. I am certain that teachers across the nation will be watching to see how teachers in states like ours weather controversies like this… controversies that the right wing press will be only too happy to amplify in the coming months. 

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