Students excused from sex abuse program

ELIDA — Elida schools excused roughly 10% of students from a sexual abuse prevention program for kindergarten through sixth grade earlier this month after parents complained the videos were not appropriate for young children.

The videos, which discuss topics like safe versus unsafe touching, were shown to students because of a new state law requiring all public K-12 schools to provide age-appropriate instruction on dating violence and sexual abuse prevention starting in kindergarten.

The district dismissed 127 students whose parents asked that their children not participate, according to Superintendent Joel Mengerink.

The program is the latest controversy for Elida schools, where parents, activists and school board members are seeking more oversight of curriculum and instructional materials.

“They want the school to focus more on the academics of their children, and not try to give the worldview to their children,” said Lelanna Spencer, a Bath resident and vice chair of the Moms for Liberty Allen County chapter who regularly attends Elida school board meetings.

“The school’s responsible for education, and (parents) want them to stay in their lane,” she said.

The school board is divided on the issue six months after a new majority took control to overturn the district’s former policy allowing transgender students to use the restroom of their preferred gender identity, but rifts are showing as board members debated whether to require permission slips for the sexual abuse program during a special meeting May 4.

A motion to postpone the program so the district could send out permission slips narrowly failed amid warnings from Mengerink, though parents could still excuse their child in writing.

Complaints primarily focused on two videos about online sexual exploitation and grooming included in the program’s teen series, which was not shown to elementary students.

Sixty percent of K-4 students were excused from a similar sexual abuse prevention program shown at Allen East, which required signed permission slips for students to participate.

“I believe parents have a right to opt their child out,” Superintendent Mel Rentschler said, “and I did not want a situation where a child is in a sex abuse course when a parent did not want it.”

The program is essential for children to “know when they’re being violated,” said Paul Weaver, an education professor for Bluffton University.

“You don’t want to be hiding things from parents,” Weaver said, but requiring permission slips for a child abuse awareness program can be “troublesome” when abusive parents exploit the process “to protect themselves,” even if other parents have legitimate concerns about the program.