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LPS guest speaker criticized for sharing how to get birth control without parental consent

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LPS guest speaker criticized for sharing how to get birth control without parental consent

Dec 11, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Aaron Sanderford
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LPS guest speaker criticized for sharing how to get birth control without parental consent
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Lincoln Southwest High School is where the guest speaker some parents complained about spoke about student options at a reproductive health clinic. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A socially conservative State Board of Education member is calling on Lincoln Public Schools to stop requiring a high school course that he says provides more specifics about human sexuality than the district acknowledges.

Kirk Penner, of Aurora, said he heard complaints from parents about a guest speaker this fall from a local family planning clinic who told students how to get pregnancy tests, STD tests, condoms, lubricant, birth control and morning-after pills without telling their parents.

LPS guest speaker criticized for sharing how to get birth control without parental consent
Kirk Penner, a member of the State Board of Education, at left, listens to testimony during an Education Committee hearing on Monday, July 31, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Federal law protects minors’ access to birth control at such clinics, with or without parental consent. It also requires that clinics encourage teens to talk to family members about the care they seek. 

An LPS spokeswoman said the teacher involved had not followed proper procedures for seeking pre-approval of guest lecturers on controversial topics.

Penner wrote LPS Superintendent Paul Gausman a letter last month criticizing the guest speaker’s message during a human behavior class at Lincoln Southwest High School.

Recording discussed birth control options

Based on Penner’s letter and public records, the speaker worked at Family Health Services. The Examiner reviewed a recording of the October lecture, which a source familiar with the talk verified.

Before a planned lesson on sexual boundaries, she described the family planning clinic’s services and encouraged students to seek help if they needed it. And she said they could get help without letting the adults in their life know.

LPS guest speaker criticized for sharing how to get birth control without parental consent
Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Paul Gausman speaks during a recent press conference about school funding in Nebraska. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

“We don’t have to run their parents’ insurance,” she says on the recording. “We can run them as uninsured. If the parents or guardians call us and ask us if so and so was there, we can neither confirm or deny that.”

Penner, whose district includes part of LPS, said he would like Lincoln to stop requiring the class. The state does not mandate it. The sociology and psychology course, in part, addresses healthy personal relationships, including a section on reproductive health.

The guest speaker, reached Thursday by email, declined to comment. 

She told the class that Family Health Services would tell parents the clinic could not reveal whether it had served their child. Such clinics are allowed by federal law to keep their care private. 

She also said the clinic had more than 800 plan B pills ready for patients who needed them.

“If that’s a service that you guys need, please feel free to stop by and I will hook you up,” she said. “Same with condoms and lube. We try to keep at least 10,000 on hand at all times as far as condoms go. So they’re coming out of our ears.”

Clinic supporters say teens need unfiltered talk

Joanna Murray of Nebraska Family Planning, which helps fund the Lincoln clinic, defended the discussion about birth control options. She said students need to know what help is available. She said the Lincoln clinic follows the law by encouraging teens to tell their parents about any care they seek at the clinic.

LPS guest speaker criticized for sharing how to get birth control without parental consent
Students at Lincoln Southwest High School heard a presentation by an outside speaker on human behavior that drew the ire of a member of the Nebraska State Board of Education. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

“It’s important to normalize a conversation that is often very difficult,” Murray said.

The morning-after pill remains legal and over the counter for adults and minors in all 50 states.

Penner called on LPS to flip its policy allowing parents to opt their children out of the human behavior class and instead wants the district to require parents to opt their children into the class. He said the district gives parents little or no chance to understand what will be discussed in day-to-day lessons – giving specifics, not generalities. 

He said parents should know if a public school is hosting a speaker advising their kids about options that might contradict their beliefs. He was one of a handful of board members who campaigned against the state setting sex education standards. 

“I’m just trying to ask Lincoln Public Schools to be a leader in transparency, to let parents know what you’re teaching their kids,” said Penner, who has been pressing for more detailed disclosure of daily lessons. “You’ve got to let them know.”

Questions about approval process

LPS requires parents to be notified of controversial guest speakers. An LPS spokeswoman said the teacher who invited the speaker did not follow proper procedures requiring pre-approval of guest lecturers on controversial topics.

The teacher had properly sought approval for another guest speaker the previous month and was denied after an internal review by the curriculum department, the spokeswoman said.

The Nebraska State Education Association
The Nebraska State Education Association on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, in Lincoln. (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

The district said the teacher is still employed at Southwest High School and declined to discuss any possible discipline. The state and local teachers unions declined to comment on a specific case involving one of its members. The teacher could not immediately be reached for comment.

Emails between the teacher and speaker, obtained from a records request, indicate that LPS investigated the appropriateness of the lecture after the fact. In one email, the speaker said she had given the same presentation in LPS schools before.

District defends actions

Nebraska in 2021 had a teen birth rate of about 14 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 through 19, the 19th lowest nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parents of students in the class contacted by the Examiner declined to comment. 

Don Mayhew, chair of the Lincoln school board’s governmental relations and community engagement subcommittee, wrote a letter to the state board saying LPS takes parent and student concerns “very seriously.” He said the district communicates with parents.

“We had worked with each family and student who expressed concerns regarding this recent issue,” Mayhew wrote. “LPS staff heard concerns from parents, they listened, and they addressed the issue. We don’t see their responsiveness as a negative.”