School Board OKs Dr. Ruth Sex Book
By Vincent Gerbino
Reprinted from the Hollis Brookline Journal, February 7, 2003
HOLLIS--"Dr. Ruth Talks to Kids About Sex" will remain on the middle school library's shelf, the school board ruled this week.
The board's 6-0 vote upholds a decision made by the district's review committee last year.
"I believe that, taken as a whole, this book provides valuable and accurate information to kids who might appropriately seek that information," said board member Tom Enright at the Feb. 4 meeting.
A Hollis parent asked the Hollis/Brookline Cooperative School Board last month to take the book, by psychologist and media personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer, out of the school library, appealing a decision last spring by the district's reconsideration committee.
Enright said the book is age appropriate, does not promote pornography, does not devalue women or children, respects male and female differences in a relationship, and does not encourage sexual exploration.
A Constitutional issue is also at stake, he said.
"Protecting the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the unfettered access to information, is an important consideration," said Enright.
Enright's motion came after a fairly lengthy discussion, during which Peggy Slater, the parent who launched the move to get the book out of the library, reiterated her earlier statements that the book taught children "how to masturbate" and promoted pornography by saying it is normal for kids coming into puberty to look at "sexy pictures in magazines."
In June, the review committee report stated that the book "provides information" about masturbation "as part of the normal human sex drive" and "provides factual information that children may be too embarrassed to ask about."
The committee concluded that "sexy pictures" which are in no way pornographic appear in mainstream publications such as People Magazine and Ladies'Home Journal.
Slater also protested the book's claim that condoms offer good protection against sexually-transmitted diseases," saying that such information encourages children to have sex under the impression that condoms will protect them. She referred to U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that said condoms only offered 50 percent protection against sexually transmitted diseases. She called the Dr. Ruth book outdated.
But two local physicians spoke strongly in favor of the book.
Dr. Alexis Bundschuh, who runs the Nashua Area Health Center, said, "The CDC website, which is constantly updated, explains that latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, do provide excellent protection against HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Condoms are effective. If everyone used them, I'd be out of business, and I would love to be out of business."
"As a doctor, I want to echo Dr. Bundschuh's comments," said Dr. James O'Shea, an oncologist and father of two from Hollis.
Superintendent of Schools Ken DeBenedictis said he felt encouraged by the fact that Slater and other parents came forward on both sides of the debate.
"This forum demonstrates the willingness of parents in our community to get involved and to help in choosing the materials used in their children's schools," he said.
The decision will stand for at least three years, and then can be reviewed again.
The reconsideration committee is made up of the school nurse, the principal, a school board member, and the school librarian.
Board member Steve Simons recused himself from the decision because he had sat on the review committee.