Saturday December 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The principal at Pittsfield High School says he’ll review all material in a school-sanctioned sex education course after an adult complained to him about the language used in a flier advocating the use of condoms.

On the final day of a Girls Inc. instructional program teaching young girls about the risks associated with sex, the flier, which had 32 phrases described as "Condom Sayings," was passed out to about 15 to 20 students at Pittsfield High. The flier included sayings such as "Practice safe sex -- make love with a Trojan" and "Condoms are easier to change then [sic] diapers."

Other sayings included language about intercourse and references to sex organs that one Pittsfield High parent, who contacted The Eagle, found crass.

That parent, Bruce Radke, saw the list of phrases in a packet brought home by his 11th-grade daughter, Aleisha, and he didn’t approve.

"It has no finesse at all," Radke said. "It’s too blunt and ignorant."

The educational material in the sex education class is now under review, Pittsfield High School Principal Tracey Benson said after hearing a complaint from an adult on Wednesday.

Sarah Gillooly, an employee of Girls Inc. who holds a sexuality education certificate from Planned Parenthood, said the sexually explicit phrases advocating condom use were passed around to engage the young women in conversation. Gillooly teaches the sex education class, which is provided at Pittsfield High by Girls Inc.

"It can’t continue the way it is," said Benson, who said he already has met with Gillooly and will review the sex education material before the holiday break.

Benson did say the "Condom Sayings" fliers were handed out with good intentions.

"I think the intent was to help students remember about pregnancy prevention and avoid STDs," Benson said. "I think that’s important to get across."

The class -- attended by young girls who need to have a parental consent form signed to attend the class -- is designed to increase the knowledge, skills and motivation for avoiding pregnancy for young women from 15 to 18, while increasing their educational career aspirations.

The Girls Inc. program at Pittsfield High School consistently receives "excellent" marks from students who fill out a survey at the end of the semester, Benson said. But he said the parental consent form will be made more detailed and students would not be able to start taking the classes until the consent forms are turned in.

According to statistics from the Berkshire United Way, Berkshire County has a higher teen birth rate than the Massachusetts average in the years leading up to 2007.

Bruce Radke’s daughter, Aleisha, contacted by phone at home, said that some of the phrases crossed a line. She recalled about 15 to 20 students between ninth and 12th grades laughing after reading the phrases.

"If they give out funny stuff, it would make people think sex isn’t serious and try it," Aleisha said.

Gillooly said the list of phrases has been distributed for about five years as an educational resource. She said the information is a memorable way for young adults to remember to use a condom.

Gillooly emphasized the "Condom Sayings" are a small part of a 16-week course that encourages assertiveness from young women and encourages them to say no to sex -- not to mention financial accountability and other positive traits.

"They do laugh and it’s a way to talk about it," Gillooly said. "I do believe silence breeds babies. I think there needs to be creative ways to remember to use a condom."

One student, who submitted a comment in an anonymous feedback dropbox, praised the class for helping her.

"I’d just like to say that over the summer I was with a guy who kept trying to get me to have sex and after taking this class last year, I knew how to say no and make the right choice," the student wrote. "So I’d just like to say thank you!"