by Nicole Norfleet via StarTribune.com
Some parents are outraged after the leader of a small Minneapolis private school took about a dozen middle- and high-school-aged students on a sex education field trip to an adult novelty store late last week.
“It’s just a major breach of trust,” said Lynn Floyd, whose 11- and 13-year-old daughters were part of the outing to the Smitten Kitten. “You just can’t erase those images.”
A leader of Gaia Democratic School and the host of the field trip defended the outing, saying the visit capped a monthslong sex education class.
Director Starri Hedges, who also teaches the school’s sex education class, said she wanted to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students to learn about human sexual behavior.
“What I saw happening on our trip, I thought it was beautiful because kids could talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear,” Hedges said Monday.
Gaia is a K-12 school with a motto promising academic freedom, youth empowerment and democratic education. Parents say the school has about 25 students, including several described by administrators as transgender. IRS records show the school, housed in a Unitarian church on Mount Curve Avenue, has an annual budget of about $100,000.
While at Smitten Kitten, students sat in the front in a library section of the store, Hedges said. Everything deemed pornographic was off limits to the students, though sex toys and other products were visible, Hedges said.
The field trip offered students access to educators and products that could be used to practice safer sex, Hedges said. Some students bought condoms, she said.
Smitten Kitten, which bills itself as “a progressive sex toy store for everyone,” sells a range of toys and leather products as well as books and DVDs. The store also offers workshops, like the kind the students participated in.
“The sexual health aspect, there is no right age for all kids,” Hedges said. “You can’t say, ‘All kids should know this at this age.’ There are students that are already going through puberty at 10 or 11.”
Floyd learned about the visit after the girls told their mother. Floyd and his former wife immediately pulled the two daughters out of school, along with their youngest daughter, 9.
Floyd said he is most troubled that parents were never notified before the trip. “I just struggled to think that I wasn’t involved in that,” he said.
Hedges said that she “unfortunately didn’t communicate well enough with parents ahead of time” about the trip.
She contacted Smitten Kitten staff last Wednesday to arrange the visit to the store. Only students who regularly attended the sex education classes throughout the year were allowed to attend, Hedges said.
It is not clear whether the field trip broke any laws.
According to Minneapolis city code, those younger than 18 should not be exposed to “sexually provocative written, photographic, printed, sound, or published materials deemed harmful to minors.”
Grant Wilson, Minneapolis business license manager, said that if a store had explicit adult toys in plain view that they shouldn’t be allowed to have minors in the store. He said he would deploy an inspector in the next few days to see if the store broke any laws.
“Without looking at the laws or anything, that was poor judgment,” Wilson said.
The store’s owner, Jennifer Pritchett, said in an e-mail Monday that she considers Smitten Kitten to be “an educational resource about sex and sexuality. … We leave it up to the discretion of parents and guardians as to when, if, and in what capacity they seek resources from our educators.”
Josh Collins, spokesman with the Minnesota Department of Education, said Gaia is a private school, so the state has no authority. “I don’t think anybody would think that going to the Smitten Kitten is a great idea,” he said.
After the controversy, Hedges said she probably would not take another class to the adult store.
“It was certainly the first time we have taken that kind of field trip and it will probably be our last, which I feel bad [about] because the kids had so much fun,” Hedges said.