Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, is calling for answers about the Oregon Department of Education’s involvement in a youth sexuality conference that has drawn fire for its use – possibly illegal — of graphic materials.
”I doubt any of the parents who signed permission slips for their child to attend this conference really knew what the lesson plans were going to be,” he said. “I think this situation just serves as a reminder for parents to stay vigilant.”
Controversy erupted last week after KOIN 6 aired a report about the Oregon Adolescent Sexuality Conference that was held earlier this year in Seaside.
According to witness statements, one speaker encouraged the use of methamphetamine during sex because it enhanced the experience.
A section of a student handout read: “Meth is widely used for a million reasons to have lots of sex with lots of partners for long periods.”
Students reportedly received an online tutorial in programming a virtual sex partner for gratification.
Pamphlets encouraged students to engage in a variety of intimate activities without intercourse. On the suggestion list was bathing together, shaving each other, wearing each other’s underwear, buying an extra-large pair of pajama bottoms to sleep in together, lap dances, and strip teases. “Students were also given tips on masturbation and urged to try role-playing, such as dressing up as a “nurse, school girl or cops and robbers.”
Bob Dais, director of Human Resources for School District 21, checked in with school principals Dec. 2 to verify that no local educators or students had attended.
“As far as I know, we did not send anyone to the event nor are we planning on sending anybody to future events,” he said.
When told about Huffman’s call for a legislative hearing on the conference, Dais said he was “glad someone’s trying to find out what happened.”
Huffman, who is seated on the House Education Committee, received an email from the department of education Tuesday.
He was informed that Brad Victor, a contract employee and director of the Oregon Teen Pregnancy Task Force, had organized the conference.
The email then said Victor was no longer affiliated with the department as of Monday, Dec. 1, but provided no further details.
“There seems to be a shroud of secrecy about this conference and I find that very interesting,” said Huffman. “We need to know exactly what happened and why.”
When approached by KOIN in November, Victor defended the materials used in the conference and said they were not censored.
“The material passed out at this conference is dedicated to preventing teen pregnancy, preventing STDs and also developing healthy relationships,” he is quoted as saying.
The conference, which is open to all school districts around the state, has been held for the past 20 years.
Church groups and parent organizations have protested the program for the last several years. However, the nature of content taught to students largely stayed off the public radar screen until KOIN investigated complaints.
Huffman said questions were raised about the conference curriculum last year but legislators didn’t delve too deeply into the matter due to a lack of information.
“I am not against sex education that is factual and unslanted,” he said. “What was going on here clearly seems to have crossed that line and now we need to ask why that conference even takes place.”
On Wednesday morning, the Chronicle received an email from the teen pregnancy task force saying the group had been the fiscal sponsor of the conference, and about 25 percent of the participants were youth, who were required to come with an adult chaperone.
“The conference promotes community-side awareness and encourages exchange of ideas across many disciplines,” stated the unsigned email.
The email then outlined that the conference content is aligned with Oregon’s Comprehensive Sexuality Education requirements, which state that abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
However, the email pointed out that abstinence is not to be stressed to the exclusion of other prevention methods.
The email said there was a keynote speaker and workshop on abstinence at the 2014 conference and many sessions were dedicated to healthy relationship skills. To provide a forum for open and honest dialogue about sexuality, the email states that “sensitive topics such as pornography” were not avoided.
“Having discussions about pornography includes sharing information about such material being illegal.
“The conference does not give directives around what youth should or should not do. It provides information for youth to critically decide for themselves,” the email states.
“We hope that youth who attend will leave understanding that they have choices to make — and some of those choices can have negative consequences. We hope that adults who attend will leave with more information about what youth are exposed to in their lives.”
The conference is billed as a networking opportunity for educators, who can learn more about sexuality issues and take that information back to their respective schools.
“OTPTF supports parents’ rights to find out what sexual health education curriculum looks like in their district. There is no mandated state curriculum for sexual health education,” states the email. “Districts select curriculum that aligns with the law and that meets the needs of their students. OTPRG also supports a parent’s right to opt their child out of sexual health education.”
Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin contends that conference organizers could face criminal charges. He is reaching out to sheriffs across the state and asking that the names of students and educators who attended from their areas give him a call about their experiences.
Wasco County Sheriff Rick Eiesland said Dec. 2 that he had not yet heard from Bergin.
He said the potential for criminal penalties exists if “images of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct was possessed, controlled or transmitted.”
“People can’t buy pornographic material until they turn 18,” he said.
“So, if minors were engaged in some kind of sexual activity online then there is going to be a problem.”
The conference planning committee is also made up of representatives from Oregon Health Authority, Planned Parenthood, Cascade AIDS Project and Insights Teen Parent Program.