Parents confront Red Hook school officials over controversial presentation to 8th graders

Red Hook school officials were confronted by parents last night about a controversial workshop presented to eighth graders last week, in part by Bard College students.

About 50 parents attended the meeting at Linden Avenue Middle School with Dr. Katie Zahedi, the school principal, and other school staff, called after controversy erupted online following the workshop last week.

The workshop, given separately to boys and girls, was a school effort to educate kids about bullying to comply with DASA (The Dignity for All Students Act) legislation and also to raise awareness of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer youth).

But on a Facebook forum after the April 11 class, irate parents said their children came home saying the boys were taught how to tell if girls were “sluts” and the girls were told to practice saying ‘no’ by asking each other on a date and kissing.

Of those who attended, many parents were also in support of the class and spoke in favor of the program.

The workshops included three Bard students, and parents had said it was unclear whether any teachers were present, a claim the school has denied. In addition, a leaflet was distributed with specific terms defining LGBTQ, which students brought home to their parents.

During the 2 hour meeting, Zahedi addressed numerous rumors that had been circulating about what had happened during the presentations, labeling as “patently false” the online claim that kids were told they could have sex no matter what parents or teacher said.

The students were told they shouldn’t feel pressured to have sex, Zahedi said, adding that she doesn’t like middle schoolers dating at all.

“I’m not surprised there was a big reaction,” she said, adding “We’ll go into classes again and make sure” the students understood the purpose of the workshops.

On the question of why Bard students were involved in the classes, Zahedi said they were trained in peer counseling. But one woman pointed out that the peer counseling was likely meant for dorm-room situations, not eighth-graders.

Zahedi agreed that including the Bard student email addresses on the flyer was a mistake. While the students thought they were doing the right thing, the school didn’t want the dialogue to be ongoing, she said.

She also refuted claims that the workshops were sex-education, saying the topic of sex was never brought up by the instructors, and any hypothetical scenarios always revolved around a kiss.

Guidance counselor Ryan Carney said part of the purpose of the program was to confront gender stereotypes such as “guys never ask for directions,” and for the boys, tell them “they really can express emotion.”

On the question of teachers in attendance, one parent said her child told her the teacher left as soon as the girls went into the classroom. But Zahedi said the class was monitored by a teacher behind a divider.

In the end, parents asked that they be notified before sexual topics were discussed in class, and school officials agreed.

NOTE: This story has been updated at 9am and then at 11:30am – The Observer will have a full article in the print edition on April 24.

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