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News | Too Much Information: Should teachers be punished for answering sex-ed questions?

By Katharine Biele
Posted // June 18,2008 - It’s a good thing that Jennifer Seelig and Carl Wimmer have a nice, solid relationship, even in their polarity. Otherwise, Wimmer, the Republican representative from Herriman, might have taken Seelig’s phone call the wrong way.

“Wimmer, what the hell are you doing?” Seelig screamed, cell-to-cell. She had just read in the morning paper where Wimmer had launched some trial balloons on adding criminal penalties to the state law on sex education. They were balloons that kind of exploded around Seelig, a Democrat from Salt Lake City’s west side.

Even more explosive was reaction on the Internet. Blogs are teeming with anonymous two-cents’-worth of opinion on whether Fort Herriman Middle School teacher Ellen Lindsey was a saint or sinner in answering student questions about sex. Lindsey has been placed on leave—and it’s summer—pending some kind of resolution. Hate mail and raunchy phone messages aim at both sides.

It’s not like the teacher was fresh out of college. Lindsey had retired from Granite District after 30 years and was in her third year in Jordan District. This was an obviously memorable first year at Fort Herriman, where parents appear to be after her hide.

Wimmer says five or six parents in his neighborhood first called, one after another, to complain about Lindsey.

“I heard everything,” Wimmer sighs. Parents said that the teacher talked about performing emergency abortions with coat hangers and advocated homosexual behavior, going into detailed descriptions on how to masturbate. “They were specifically detailed about how women and girls should masturbate,” he says.

Wimmer doesn’t really believe the abortion stuff, although he heard it from two people, but he says the same-sex stuff rang true. News reports say Lindsey sent home a pamphlet entitled, “101 Ways to Make Love Without Doing It,” and showed her eighth-graders a sexually explicit cartoon.

“When you have 20 or 30 kids all confirming the same things, it really helps show you what happened,” he says. “The district felt she was in violation … they felt she violated the law and had gone way too far.”

Lindsey could not be reached for comment, and a district representative would only say that Jordan is an abstinence-only district. “We take our cues from the parents, and they have been very vocal with our school board; that hasn’t changed in the last 12 years I’ve been here,” says spokeswoman Melinda Colton.

Wimmer also takes his cues from parents, and he’s ever accommodating. He’s asked Seelig, who sits on the Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Interim Committee with him, to kibbutz about legislation.

“I’ve got to be honest,” Wimmer says. “I may not attach any penalties to the law. Another option I’m leaning heavily towards is having two adults in the classroom while the sex-ed block is being taught; it protects the teacher from outrageous allegations.”

How outrageous these allegations are is still speculation. Some students have publicly protested their teacher’s plight, while others seemed downright horrified. Some parents suggested that Wimmer’s bill require class sessions to be recorded, but Wimmer worries about the technology costs, among other things.

No matter what the call, legislation will cost education money. Wimmer says the message he’d like to send is that sex-education systems should empower the parent. “If a girl asks, ‘What is masturbation?’ then the teachers can say what it is, but if it goes any further, she would have to say you need to talk to your parents,” Wimmer says.

That would all be fine if parents would actually talk frankly about sex with their kids.

“The real question we have to ask here is when our kids are asking questions, do we provide them with answers or not, do we tell them to go home and ask their parents, and what if their parents won’t tell them? Are they too young to know?” asks Karrie Galloway of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.

“I know that Utah policy from the state school board is very confusing to teachers; it says you can’t promote contraception—but promotion can be in the eye of the beholder,” Galloway says.

So, it looks like Utah is in for another round of sex talk on the Hill. It may be good, says Seelig, who’s ready to dialogue.

“I have a stake in this,” Seelig says. “Bottom line is I have a problem in my area and that’s why it’s of concern for me.” Health department statistics showed her that pregnancy rates and instances of gonorrhea and Chlamydia in her legislative district were higher than the state average for 15- to 19-year-olds.

“While adults continue to fight over this issue,” she says, “kids are experimenting with sex unprepared.”


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Posted // June 19,2008 at 11:20 And when the number of teen pregnancy and std’s go up among that age group...Parents can always place the blame on Myspace, MTV, and rap music.


Posted // June 19,2008 at 10:03 Thank you for the clearification, I had just had that explained to me and was returning to this site to correct that comment. The origional information came from a national web site that did not explain the opt-out clearly in UT.nnI find it interesting that in the schools in my area most parents/children are opting in, suggesting the comments by Instero that parents do not want to answer any questions kids might have is just a little overstated. It may also suggest that giving parents the right to choose, at least in UT, is not a bad system given our ranking of 45. nnThis is an important topic, and I would hope that cooler heads on both sides of the issue will come together, look at the facts and make decisions that are truely best for the children of Utah, and not opperate from emotional, sometimes irrational unsubstantiated claims (again from both sides).


Posted // June 19,2008 at 08:09 You say: It might be interesting that Utah is one of only a few states that do not allow parents to opt out of having their children attend sex education.nnThis is not entirely accurate. In Utah, a student CAN NOT attend sex education unless the parents sign an opt in consent form. Utah is one of the few states that has this opt in policy, whereas the rest of the USA is on your opt out policy.


Posted // June 19,2008 at 04:33 I’m amazed that legislatures in Utah, who say they represent the parents of Utah, and school districts in Utah all seem to want to bury their head in the sand when it comes to sex education and then punish anyone who has the audacity to answer a question. It’s seems rather obvious that no one wants else (parents, school district, or even public agencies) wants to answer any questions kids might have. It seems insteresting that people in Utah, a state with the one of the highest teen pregnacy rates, keep insisting that just saying no to sex works. While I may think it’s best to not have sex until marriage, it would be good for many to have a backup plan to stop pregnancy just in case they do end up having sex. It seems the 70-80% of kids who fall into the category of having sex before marriage would benefit a lot more then the ones who can actually make it to marriage as virgins. I doubt the ones who remain virgins would change just because they learned about how not to become pregnant.