School officials at plan to reevaluate the school's relationship with a sexual health education group from after receiving a complaint this week from the parent of a student.
The complaint, which school officials said was the first of its kind, came after a presentation to an 11th-grade health class April 13 by AIDS and Sexual Health Awareness, a student-based group that offers workshops on sexually transmitted diseases to local high schools.
"They come in to help us cover the sexually transmitted infections part of the curriculum," said Coginchaug Principal Andre Hauser. Hauser said ASHA had been invited to the school for at least the last 15 years to help students "evaluate the risk" of sexual behaviors.
"Their program really was about high-risk versus low-risk behaviors. Any of the behaviors that were getting talked about were ones the students generated," Hauser said.
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The parent, who asked not to be identified, said her daughter came home upset after discussion during the workshop moved to subjects such as "foot fetishes" and "urinating on your partner."
"My daughter had no idea," the parent said. "She was shocked, she was very upset."
The parent, who called herself a "devout Catholic," told Patch while she does not oppose sex education being taught in the classroom she felt the manner in which the group presented the topic was inappropriate.
"I see this as a perversion of what sex is supposed to be," she said. "This coming in a health class, I don't see anything healthy about what they were taught."
The parent also raised concern over what she felt was a lack of notification to students and their parents of the group's visit to the school.
"What I would have liked to have had would be a notice saying ASHA is coming from Wesleyan, this is their website, look it over and if you want your child to not be a part of this classroom [discussion] then they can go to the library," she said.
Chris Bertz, a health teacher at the high school who was present during the workshop, said students are given the option to opt out of the class if they feel uncomfortable with the material.
"We're very attuned to that," Bertz said. "We have in the past approached students who looked very uncomfortable and asked if they're OK, if they feel they need to leave."
In an email to Patch, David Pesci, a Wesleyan spokesperson, said ASHA begins each workshop by informing students that the material being discussed is of an explicit nature.
"The objective is to offer resources and knowledge to empower them to make the healthy choices if and when they engage in sexual activity," Pesci said.
According to Pesci, ASHA has presented 39 workshops to about 600 local students this year. "There have been no complaints with any of those," he said.
Similarly, Hauser said the school had never previously received a complaint about the group and added that students have provided positive feedback since the workshop nearly two weeks ago.
Teaching students about sexually transmitted diseases and HIV, he said, is required by law.
"The topic is part of the curriculum. So the topic of keeping kids safe from sexually transmitted infections is something we'll continue to cover," said Hauser. "Any time there's a concern brought to us we always evaluate what we're doing and we don't want to rush to judgment about changing things right away. On the other hand, we don't want to ignore any student concerns."
ASHA had been scheduled to return to the school on Tuesday to continue the workshop, but at school officials’ request did not come. Hauser said the decision had more to do with the fact that nearly the entire junior class was on a field trip.
"We will decide down the road whether there's a role for this group here or not," Hauser said. "The message we don't want to send kids is don't talk about it, don't ask about it. If they're curious about something and we can give them an answer that can keep them safe, we want to."