Schenectady High School should have notified parents about a Planned Parenthood-supported program for freshmen, Superintendent Larry Spring said after a parent complained to the school board Wednesday night.
Vivian Parsons, who grew up in Schenectady, told the school board she felt her rights as a parent were ignored when the district failed to notify her about a teen pregnancy prevention assembly held the previous Thursday that involved Planned Parenthood educators. She said she should have been given a chance to keep her daughter out of the program. Parsons said she learned about the assembly from her daughter last week.
“I have a right to know if this kind of stuff will be presented to my daughter,” Parsons told the school board. “Not every parent is OK with an association with Planned Parenthood, irregardless of content.”
Parsons said she recognized the school is working to address “an epidemic of babies having babies,” but she felt strongly she didn’t want her daughter participating in an event involving Planned Parenthood – a position she connected with her own experience as a teenage mother.
Spring, after the school board meeting, said he “was under the impression” that parents were to be notified of the event and given a chance to opt-out for their kids, similar to how the district handles certain aspects of sex education taught during health classes.
“(In health classes), parents are aware that is going on, and they can say, 'Hey, wait a minute, I want to handle that differently for my child,'” Spring said after the meeting.
In a written statement Thursday, however, district spokeswoman Karen Corona said parents weren’t notified of the event, “because the content or material within the presentation is not considered inappropriate” for high school freshman. She added that district and school officials would review and discuss “what should be communicated in the future.”
Parsons said she gave birth to her daughter when she was 18, and that her daughter’s father had encouraged her to get an abortion, something she said she never considered. Knowing that Planned Parenthood would have provided an abortion discredits that organization's ability to offer education services to her child, Parsons said.
“They would have killed her for $250 and moved on,” Parsons said in an interview. “How can the people who would not have hesitated in ending her life short turn around and be the ones who quote-unquote teach my daughter to make life choices?”
Parsons said she had a good relationship with her daughter and that she “had it” when it comes to teaching her about sex and relationships. She also said she recognized that some parents are completely comfortable with their children participating in events like Thursday’s assembly.
Schenectady-based Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Emma Corbett said abortions are a small part of the overall health and education services the organization provides. She also said the organization agrees parents should have the right to decide what kinds of sex education their children receive.
“Parents are the first teachers, the first source of information for their children, and it’s up to them to take the lead on when their kids are ready to have these types of conversations,” Corbett said.
Planned Parenthood works with the district to develop a range of programs for students, from healthy relationship training for middle-school students to regular health education in the high school. Those programs’ curriculums are approved by the district and state Department of Health.
Thursday’s assembly, called First Love Yourself, featured teenage parents sharing their stories and focused on the ways teenage pregnancy related to other social issues that impact Schenectady students. Corona said Planned Parenthood was one of multiple partners in the event.
Spring, like Corbett, cited a steady decline in Schenectady County’s teen pregnancy rates — still among the highest in the state — as evidence that the district’s efforts with Planned Parenthood were paying off. From 2012 to 2015, the rate of teen pregnancies in Schenectady slid from 59.7 to 42 per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19, according to the state’s vital statistics.
“Our position is that kids are going to ask questions,” Spring said. “We would much rather her ask Planned Parenthood about that (condom use) than the kid sitting next to her at the lunch table.”
At a glance
Number of pregnancies per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19 in Schenectady County, by year.
- 2012 — 59.7
- 2013 — 53.3
- 2014 — 44.2
- 2015 — 42.0
Source: New York State Department of Health