The C-Word In Sex-Ed

Amie Newman

A Catholic high school in Seattle censors a student-written article on religion, sex-ed and Catholicism.

The name Ryan Dunn gave to his blog?

“Let’s Talk About Sex.”

Only, Dunn’s original plan wasn’t to talk about sex via a personal blog but through his high school’s newspaper, The Miter, in the form of an article.

Ryan Dunn is a student and member of The Miter’s editorial team at Bishop Blanchet High School, a Catholic school in Seattle. According to an article in The Stranger, “Onward Christian Censors,” he spent four months researching his article; a stunningly well-written examination of the Catholic Church’s official stance on contraception, the students’ need and desire for comprehensive sexual health education and the clash between age-old doctrine and the realities of a contemporary age:

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What it boils down to, however, is a debate of practicality. The Vatican devises its doctrine in a Catholic world, but educates its students in a secular one.

But when he submitted it to school administrators for review he was told first to re-write it placing more emphasis on the “religious aspect” of the issue. When he resubmitted it, he was told not to run it. Principal Tom Lord did not expressly forbid the publication, it seems. Ryan was more benignly “asked not to run it”, says his blog, “out of concern for any repercussions from the Archdiocese of Seattle, the religious organization that runs the school.”

The Stranger reported that:

“…the principal said some of his favorite teachers might lose their jobs because publishing it could offend church officials.”

That’s certainly a lot of pressure to put on an enterprising, young journalist who seems to be doing a stellar job on behalf of the school’s newspaper, no?

“I’m in an awkward position because I teach journalism and I believe in the freedom of the press and yet we write articles with our hands tied,” Blanchet journalism teacher Chris Grasseschi says. “There are things we don’t touch.” Among those things: Planned Parenthood, which Grasseschi says “doesn’t exist” as far as the Miter is concerned.

As a Seattle resident, I will say that I have heard of Bishop Blanchet’s more progressive teachings. The school seems, from the outside, hardly to be a bastion of extreme conservative, religious principle.  But fear of rocking the religious hierarchy should not be a reason for withholding health education and important information from students. Especially when you read this (from a recent survey of Blanchet students):

 Perhaps most shockingly, the survey indicates that 58% of Blanchet students have had sex, and 39% of those students have had unprotected sex. Sadly, 42% of all students describe their sex education as abstinence-only, and 16% say they have received no sex education at all.

It is true, as well, that to be a high school student in Seattle, without a school-based health center is to be at a disadvantage in general. Fourteen public middle and high-schools in Seattle are home to on-campus health centers run by a unique and progressive partnership between the city and county public health departments and various community health organizations including major hospital and research centers like Group Health and Swedish Medical Center. These centers are staffed by qualifed health care providers and offer “a comprehensive scope of services including asthma care, immunizations, family planning, and mental health counseling.” This includes referrals to other community health centers or specialists.

Students at Bishop Blanchet are no different than those at neighboring public high schools in the city. Because they are not recipients of these services may mean they need comprehensive sex-ed all the more. The sex-ed classes at Blanchet, according to one student, is “a joke” and, notes Dunn’s piece:

“Equally disparaging to some is the fact that Blanchet’s clinic offers nothing in the way of sexual health resources that can be found in any public school, such as birth control, STD screenings, emergency contraception, referrals, and counseling services about sexual matters.  “There are no resources available for birth control, or any type of sexual health information available to students, not even Planned Parenthood brochures,” said an anonymous student. 

Dunn’s article notes not only the plethora of evidence that supports how important comprehensive sex-ed is if we are to help young people protect their health but also how important it is to trust young people to use knowledge and information for good. But, perhaps, his strongest arguments take into consideration the history of Catholic dogma on sexuality, reproduction and contraception:

Throughout all the redactions and shifts that have changed the teachings and positions of the Church over the years, the foundation Gospel values of love, mercy, peace, righteousness, and purity of heart have not wavered an inch. Maybe it is time for the Church to re-examine its position, and find ways to provide students with the vital information they need to protect themselves in this sex-centered society while still finding ways to instill in them the Gospel values of love and charity that are the foundation of Christianity.

At the time of this writing the Superintendent of Catholic schools in Seattle has not released a statement on this story.

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