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March 12. 2014 10:07PM

Video on molestation, shown to Manchester 3rd graders, upsets parents

MANCHESTER — A group of parents is calling on the district to review its policies after they say their children were shown a video in school, without their knowledge, that dealt with molestation.

The parents, who spoke out at a Board of School Committee meeting on Monday, say their third-grade children were deeply upset by the video, which depicted an inappropriate interaction between a boy and his uncle.

In response to their concerns, district officials are reviewing the health education curriculum and its parental notification policy.

Victoria Sullivan, mother of a student at Highland Goffe's Falls Elementary School and the head of its parents' and teachers' group, said she knew something was wrong when she heard about the video and asked her son if he had seen it.

"At first he didn't want to talk about it, and that's not like him," she said. "Looking at it from an 8-year-old's perspective, I'll be honest, I cried. It's horrible that some kids are aware of this, and have experienced it, but for kids with no knowledge, it was really scary."

Sullivan was among three Highland Goffe's Falls parents who spoke at Monday's board meeting.

Another, Jennifer Brown, said parents should have been informed that such a video was going to be shown. "I can decide whether or not this material is appropriate for my child based on their maturity," she said at the meeting. "Every parent should be allowed to make these choices for their child. That is responsible parenting."

Another parent said her child told her the video depicted a man putting his hands down the pants of a boy.

Sullivan, however, said in an interview that the video actually showed the boy confronting his uncle about committing the act in the past. She viewed the video after approaching the principal of Highland Goffe's Falls.

Sullivan said the fact that kids envisioned the act of molestation showed how disturbing it was for them — and she added that the video potentially modeled dangerous behavior for children by showing the boy confronting his uncle.

Sullivan said that the video was at least a couple decades old, noting that the guy had a mustache, which made it "all the creepier."

The district adopted a policy in 2012 allowing parents to substitute materials of their choosing for ones they deem objectionable. The change was made in response to a law enacted by the Legislature in 2011. The policy, however, assumes that parents are aware of or have already been notified of the materials.

Another district policy, concerning the use of videos, requires that parents of elementary school students "be notified two school days prior to the showing of a G, PG, PG-13, or segment of R-rated video/DVD/supplemental electronic resource."

It's not clear if administrators or teachers at Highland Goffe's Falls or other schools attempted to notify parents before the video was shown, or if they have done so in the past.

Superintendent Debra Livingston said this was part of the review she and her staff were undertaking. But she said her understanding was the district's policy was to inform parents.

"I go by what was adopted by the district, however, like I said at meeting I think it is important we review this from time to time," Livingston said.

The superintendent said the video was part of the Michigan Model for Health curriculum and has been shown "for a while now."

Sullivan, for her part, said she first became aware of the video a couple years ago when another of her children saw it. She said she sent an email to the administration at the time indicating she wanted to be "informed when showing a video like that."

Mayor Ted Gatsas said he believed a review of the district's policies was appropriate.

"I've not seen it," he said of the video. "But I hear what the parents are saying, and I certainly can appreciate if they don't want their children to see it. And there should at least be proper notification sent home."

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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