The Minnesota Child Protection League, a group opposed to an anti-bullying bill making its way through the Minnesota Legislature, has created a packet for legislators that contains misleading information.
The packet starts with a message to legislators: “Considering a ‘yes’ vote on HF826, the bullying bill? This is a sample of the developmentally-appropriate programmatic instruction that your children will be shown with your stamp of approval!”
Then the group wrote, Warning: According to MN Statute 617.241, pictures in this book may violate obscenity laws. Therefore we have blurred the pictures out. However, if you vote yes on HF 826, the bullying bill, you WILL be voting to expose children to these kinds of images and ideas in every subject preK-12th grade under the guise of bullying prevention. For children, the pictures will not be blurred because public schools are exempt from obscenity laws.”
What follows are excerpts from “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie Harris.
It’s Perfectly Normal is one of the most banned books in America. It’s number 12 on the American Library Association’s most challenged books. It’s also been praised as a learning tool for teaching about sexuality. It’s received acclaim for its scientifically accurate, inclusive, and approachable information for children and families. Praise has included the Urban League, Planned Parenthood, TIME Magazine, the editor of Parenting Magazine, People Magazine, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times.
The Minnesota Child Protection League says it will be taught in schools around the state if the safe schools bill becomes law. But why would a sexual health book be included in anti-bullying curriculum? That’s where MNCPL delves into conspiracy theories.
According to the group, the phrase “developmentally-appropriate” is code for indoctrination in sexually explicit materials. The group even published a handy guide mapping out their thought process.
Gov. Dayton’s Prevention of Bullying Task Force released a report in 2012 and serves as the basis for the Safe and Supportive Minnesota Schools Act.
One phrase in the report that the MNCPL pounced on is “understand the nature of human sexuality.”
Here it is in context:
Effective strategies will promote values, attitudes, and behaviors that acknowledge the cultural diversity of students; optimize relevance to students from multiple cultures in the school community; understand the nature of human sexuality; strengthen students’ skills necessary to engage in healthy interactions; and build on the varied cultural resources of families and communities.
MNCPL then conflates a five-word phrase in the task force report with a four-word phrase in the bill.
MNCPL wrote, “The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) is the likely standard for what is deemed “developmentally appropriate programmatic instruction” (HF 826, line 7.8) for human sexuality.” (emphasis MNCPL)
SEICUS is a private nonprofit “dedicated to affirming that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of life” and has been a boogeyman for religious right groups for decades.
The phrase “developmentally appropriate programmatic instruction” occurs in the bill three times and each time in relation to prevention and discipline related to bullying, not in regard to human sexuality. In fact, the word sexuality never occurs in the bill and sexual health education is never mentioned in the bill. This is where MNCPL begins to stretch the truth.
To recap, MNCPL thinks that obscenity will be introduced in school curriculum because the group expects school administrators to turn to a sexual health group in order to set up school anti-bullying policies.
The MNCPL goes further. “Curriculum and resources like It’s Perfectly Normal are highly recommended and promoted by SIECUS. The SIECUS guidelines have the stamp of approval from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education—the intended location for the proposed School Climate Center—a $1 million dollar new state agency.”
The Minnesota Department of Health lists SIECUS as a resource a number of times. The Department of Education does not. MNCPL is falsely conflating the Department of Education with the Department of Health.
The bill would not house the school climate center in the Department of Health. It would be housed in the Department of Education. The safe schools bill never mentions the Department of Health. Again, the MNCPL is falsely conflating the Department of Education with the Department of Health.
There is no connection between the safe schools bill and It’s Perfectly Normal.
MNCPL cites a consent decree between the Anoka-Hennepin School District and the Department of Justice after that district failed to protect its student from bullying as proof that obscene materials (and supposedly It’s Perfectly Normal) will be included in school curriculum
As a part of the Consent Decree settlement—described by U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez as “a comprehensive blueprint…a model for schools across the nation”—the Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment Task Force was formed in 2012. The Anoka-Hennepin Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment Task Force Report 2012-2013includes the following recommendation: “Comprehensive, inclusive health and human development education K-12.” (Page 8) (emphasis MNCPL)
The emphasis on comprehensive, inclusive sexuality education for bullying prevention in both the Anoka-Hennepin Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment Task Force Report and Governor Dayton’s Prevention of School Bullying Task Force Report shows the legislative intent to include sexually explicit, controversial lessons for school-age children, beginning in preschool—all under the banner of inclusive curriculum.(emphasis MNCPL)
But the claim that “sexually explicit lessons” or that It’s Perfectly Normal will be included in bullying prevention under the safe schools bill is not supported by that claim. The consent decree listed 83 items under 9 recommendations, and one included “Comprehensive, inclusive health and human development education K-12.” That could hardly be called an emphasis. In the governor’s task force report, “sexuality” is mentioned only once in 44 pages, and its under the section that encourages parent, family, and community engagement in bullying prevention, not school curriculum or instruction.
In sum, despite the fact that the safe schools bill never mentions sexuality education, and the task force report makes one reference to sexuality, MNCPL argues that a specific book not related to bullying prevention will be shown to all kids in public schools because of the safe schools bill.
“That’s just patently false. Far-fetched. I don’t even know where they get this stuff,” the bill author, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, told WCCO earlier this month.
“It has to be based on evidence…research that has proven, positive effects. There is nothing like that in the research that supports a claim like that. So I don’t know where this is coming from,” said Dibble.
Much of it is coming from the religious right echo chamber.
For example, In Tennessee in February, former Saturday Night Live cast member turned religious right activist Victoria Jackson claimed the book was being used in Tennessee where she is running for office. It turned out it wasn’t, and she quietly took the claim off her campaign website.
MassResistance, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an “anti-LGBT hate group,” brought the book up in Massachusetts last year in a fight against sex education standards.
The American Life League, an anti-abortion group, has been rallying against the book because Planned Parenthood uses it in its sexual health activities. And right-wing Catholic groups have been railing against the book this year.
The book has been targeted by the religious right for banning since it was first published in 1996.
Here’s the packet MNCPL put together for legislators: