EDUCATION INTERRUPTUS

A SCOTTSDALE PARENTS' GROUP WITH TIES TO PAY ROBERTSON IS MAKING SURE THE SEX-ED CURRICULUM DOESN'T GO ALL THE WAY

The compromise pleases no one. For those who favor comprehensive sex education, Scottsdale's curriculum merely opens a can of worms. It tells kids to be safe, but doesn't definitively tell them how.

For those on the other side, nothing short of a mental chastity belt is satisfactory.

The abstinence-only crowd is convinced that Planned Parenthood is plotting the abstinence-but movement. And the abstinence-but people say the religious right is the driving force behind abstinence-only.

Both are correct, to some extent. And both the abstinence-but and abstinence-only groups--often with assistance from Planned Parenthood or religious-right organizations--have spent vast amounts of time and money attempting to discredit one another.

In Scottsdale, support for abstinence-but comes from many parents, some of whom have long been in the district's power structure (on committees, the school board), and a few administrators.

The abstinence-only group appears to be smaller but more cohesive. Less than a year old, it even has a name: Parents Who Care. Those who support abstinence-but took offense at the name, saying it implies that other parents don't care.

Mike Doyle--the communications director and chief rabble-rouser for Parents Who Care--responds, "A name is a name is a name. Is Planned Parenthood really what they say they are? Planned parenthood? Baloney. Initially, they were for no parenthood. And now they're for abortions."

Noisy groups like Parents Who Care make headway in battles like these because there is little hope of enlightened debate. Both sides have hurled so many statistics, it's literally possible to prove just about anything.

But most of the data springs from national studies. The Arizona Department of Education isn't even sure how many of the state's school districts offer high school sex ed. The department's best guess is something like five out of 225.

Facts about the Scottsdale teen-sex scene are even sketchier. There is no credible documentation as to how many Scottsdale teenagers are sexually active, and no credible effort to find out. Nor is such information available on the state level, although we do know Arizona has the sixth-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the nation.

When Carolyn Phillips spoke out against Mike Doyle and Parents Who Care, it was the American Center for Law and Justice, the public-interest law agency created by Pat Robertson, that responded.

In a September letter addressed to "Citizens of Scottsdale School District," Phillips, an advocate of comprehensive sex ed, wrote, "JUST WHO ARE 'PARENTS WHO CARE'? Are they members of our community? Parents of children in our public schools? Even citizens of our country? Do they represent all our community beliefs, or just those of a special interest group? Why would outsiders want to put forth such an effort to determine what Scottsdale students learn in our schools?"

Phillips' queries are clearly aimed at Mike Doyle, a recent transplant from Toronto, Canada.

Not long after she began asking questions about Parents Who Care, Phillips, mother of three, including a seventh grader at the Cocopah school, received a letter from Benjamin Bull, who is in charge of the ACLJ's new Phoenix office, demanding that she retract statements she had made about Doyle and Parents Who Care.

New Times has obtained a copy of Bull's letter, though it did not come from Phillips. The three-page letter concludes, "Please be advised that if the retraction is not made as specified above, or if these false statements are uttered or published by you in the future, I will advise my clients of their rights to proceed with legal remedies against you by means of a lawsuit for defamation and false light injury." Bull also writes that because Phillips identified herself as a member of a Cocopah school committee, the school district would be liable for her "torturous misconduct." Bull did not return phone calls from New Times.

After consulting with her personal attorney, Phillips decided not to retract her statements. But Bull's bellicose letter has certainly altered her thinking. She has been careful to address only the issues.

"I don't know what I have done to make these people mad, other than I'm the only one that has really called them for what I think they are," says Phillips.

". . . Women that I was friends with before now suddenly won't even speak to me. . . . All of the sudden, now I'm a sex maniac or something just because I want my kids to know the truth."

Mike Doyle admits that Bull serves as unofficial counsel to Parents Who Care, providing legal advice for free. Doyle says, "Whenever a contentious issue has come along, I've picked up the phone and I've called Ben and asked for his advice.

"We've asked him to look at the adoption of the [Reducing the Risk] program by the school board . . . to see if they in fact conform with the law, and I have not yet had a final decision from him. But if there is something that we think is illegal about what we feel they have done, we will bring it to the board's attention and hope they change it. If not, then we are prepared to do whatever has to be done to be sure the law is followed."

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