Parent group protests sex education classes at Catholic schools

April 30, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

EMMITSBURG -- A small group of parents is protesting courses in human sexuality being taught at Mother Seton School and other Catholic classrooms throughout the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Parents such as Mary Lynne Ziegler, whose three children attend the Emmitsburg elementary school, contend that textbooks are sexually explicit and that the program undermines parental responsibility.

The group, including parents from as far away as Baltimore and Silver Spring, numbered about 20 at a prayer vigil at Mother Seton School this week. They want the archdiocese to remove human sexuality courses from parochial schools.

"Our sex ed programs are destroying the natural order of our children's development, the natural role of families as a teaching environment . . .," Mrs. Ziegler said.

But she and others in the group acknowledged that after talking with archdiocesan school officials, they did not expect the schools to change.

Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said the parents represent a small minority, and that the courses would not be removed from the curriculum. He said courses at Mother Seton School, the nation's oldest parochial school, and at other schools are taught in a "realistic but also sensitive approach" with moral values incorporated in lessons.

"Our young people are barraged each day with sexual images in music, movies and television," Dr. Valenti said. "It is incumbent .. as a Catholic education institution [that we] provide our children with the proper perspective of human sexuality in context to their growth and in the context of the teachings of the church." Schools in the Baltimore Archdiocese have included lessons on human sexuality for about 20 years, Dr. Valenti said. Materials follow church teachings and the American bishops' document on human sexuality, he said.

The Baltimore Archdiocese, which includes most of Maryland, excluding the Eastern Shore and parts of suburban Washington, requires sex education to be taught at age-appropriate levels in kindergarten through 12th grade, Dr. Valenti said.

Sister Mary Catherine Warehime, principal at Mother Seton, said textbooks contain Scripture, prayers, information about saints and family life. She said the books are age-appropriate and have been recommended by the archdiocese.

The school has about 320 students, grades kindergarten though eight. Children in grades one through eight are offered courses that involve sex education each spring. As at all Catholic schools, such courses are optional. Parents can remove their children from the courses for other instruction, such as further religious education. All materials are available for parental review.

"Every parent has the right to choose for his or her own child the program or an alternative, and I feel very comfortable with that," Sister Catherine said. "We teach these courses in a very respectful manner and within the strictest teachings of the church."

She said few complaints have been raised about the courses. A set of textbooks used the past several years is being replaced this spring by a new series with more Scripture and prayers.

But parents criticized the new textbooks because of sexual explicitness and references to mammal reproduction in third-grade editions. Parents from Baltimore, Silver Spring and Westminster have joined Emmitsburg parents in the protest.

The Baltimore Archdiocese has about 39,000 students.

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