EDUCATION INTERRUPTUS

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

Peg Straus never thought she'd see such an outcry in the placid--albeit socially conservative--community of Scottsdale. Straus, the Scottsdale school district's head nurse, began to consider her high schools' sex-education needs in the fall of 1993.

The district could have offered a biology-based lesson regarding AIDS--all that's required by state law--but Straus, a registered nurse with a master's degree in community nursing, wanted to address behavior through sex education.

Her only data were amateur: a survey of freshmen at a Scottsdale high school conducted by a youth minister who had spoken to the students in November 1993. Almost 23 percent had indicated they were sexually active, a number just below the national average.

Straus invited what she thought was a representational group of parents, students and administrators to an open meeting to discuss formulation of a sex-education curriculum.

"Word kind of got out within certain communities that I was holding some kind of secret meeting. And that was absolutely not true," she says.

That's when Straus, who intended to be neutral, became a target. The first meeting was held in early December 1993, and shortly thereafter, a letter went out from Charlie Dunlap, a parent and one of the few who spoke out against the 6-through-8 sex-education curriculum when it was revised in 1989. Dunlap did not return phone calls from New Times.

His letter began, "Dear Friends: "The Scottsdale School District's Head Nurse has begun discussions which are designed for introduction of a complete 'sex education' curriculum at the high school level.

"To date all leadership in the creation of the district sex education curriculum has been provided by those favoring the 'planned parenthood' approach to sex ed." (Italics his.)

Interested parties were urged to attend Straus' second meeting and also to attend "a short, but important, meeting" to discuss alternatives.

The seeds of discontent were sowed, but it would take a charismatic Canadian to make them grow.

Enter Mike Doyle, who moved to Scottsdale in August 1993 from Toronto with his wife and son, then a freshman at Arcadia High School. Doyle says he moved specifically to place his son at Arcadia, because he'd heard such good things about the school.

"Everything was going swimmingly until I made the mistake of going to a meeting," Doyle says, laughing. Someone called last January and urged him to attend the third meeting on the sex-ed curriculum.

Doyle recalls that the meeting was confrontational when he arrived. Others say it grew more so after Doyle arrived.

"He just sauntered in like King Tut," one parent says. "He came in with his booming voice, he grabbed a podium and stood at the back of the room" and started screaming abstinence-only.

Doyle made a big impression. "The next day, my phone didn't stop ringing," he says. It rang for three days. First, about five families got together to strategize. By April, it had become Parents Who Care, with a steering committee of up to 30, a mailing list of more than 3,500 and, by summer, the financial capability to blanket Scottsdale with thousands of dollars worth of propaganda.

The immediate goal: to defeat Reducing the Risk.

It's easy to see why Mike Doyle makes an impact. He's a thick man with thick, black hair carefully combed and sprayed into submission. His radio-quality voice booms through the Doyles' small, immaculate apartment in southern Scottsdale as he sits with a cordless phone, a coffee cup and reading glasses--which he's constantly putting on and taking off--and recalls the events of the past year.

Doyle does not look like the zealot his foes might wish him to be. He wears sweats and a tee shirt, tennis shoes, a gold pinkie ring.

He works here, out of his home. He says he's a graphic artist, his wife a registered nurse. He's only recently received his working papers, he says. Doyle's not a U.S. citizen. Unable to work, he devoted the last few months to designing the brochures and mailings for Parents Who Care, writing op-eds for local newspapers and rallying the troops.

What does his son think of all of this? Don't ask.
Doyle doesn't believe students deserve a voice in the dialogue about sex education. Talking to kids "distorts the picture," he says. "I don't know that if the kids really had an understanding of this issue that we would have to be teaching them anything. . . . The fact of the matter is that at their stage of development, the only thing they can reflect to you is precisely that--that stage of their development."

Doyle will be happy to tell you what he thinks. Abstinence-only, all the way. As for head nurse Peg Straus, Doyle says, "I just don't think she should be in the position she's in given the philosophy she has. Anyone who thinks that the kids are not going to pass science shouldn't be the science teacher."

There's no reason Scottsdale kids shouldn't pass, Doyle says. Birth-control instruction and discussion are "completely unnecessary," because "there is no problem" in Scottsdale, he says.

Actually, "not as big a problem" would be a more accurate description. Doyle himself cites a 1993 statistic from the Maricopa County Department of Health and Community Services that shows 15 births per thousand to Scottsdale mothers age 10 to 19, compared with 51.2 births per thousand Phoenix mothers age 10 to 19. (County employees say this number has held steady for five years.)

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