Gilbert Schools Require Anti-Abortion, Pro-Abstinence Sticker on Biology Textbooks

Rather than tearing an offensive page out of an honors biology textbook as previously considered, Gilbert Public Schools this month chose to put pro-abstinence, anti-abortion stickers in the book.

Laura Conaway, writing for MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, broke the story last Friday after a viewer tipped her off, and an outraged tweet sent out Wednesday by a Gilbert mom brought more attention to the district's decision.

Suzanne Young, mother of a GPS high school student and an author of books for young adults, tweeted a picture of the sticker, writing: "This. THIS is a sticker my son's public high school just forced all students to put in their science books . . . Son got in the car, turned to me, and handed me his biology book. 'You're going to want to read this,' he said, pointing to the sticker."

"Son said that if the sticker is not in the book by tomorrow, student will have to meet with the grade-level administrator," Young said in another tweet.

In plain black text on a white background, the business-card-size sticker reads: "The Gilbert Public School District supports the state of Arizona's strong interest in promoting childbirth and adoption over elective abortion. The District is also in support of promoting abstinence as the most effective way to eliminate the potential for unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. If you have questions concerning sexual intercourse, contraception, pregnancy, adoption, or abortion, we encourage you to speak with your parents.."

The sticker mentions a law passed two years ago by the Arizona Legislature, ARS 15-115, and an accompanying definition statute, which apparently require public schools to "present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion." Debate between conservative Christians and others on the district's governing board resulted last year in a controversial proposal to tear a page out of the Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections used in honors biology classes.

That idea was scrapped, in part after a change on the board in November's election. But the stickers were chosen as a compromise for people who believe the district needs to adhere more closely to the "preferred option" law, Irene Mahoney-Paige, spokeswoman for the district, tells New Times.

The stickers are going in not just the honors textbook, but in all biology textbooks used by ninth-, 10th-, and 11th-grade students, Mahoney-Paige says.

However, Young's tweet — and media reports based on it — are incorrect about students being forced to put the stickers in their textbooks, she says.

Following a decision by the board, the stickers were made and distributed to the chairs of the district's science department, Mahoney-Paige says.

"Some schools have the kids turning the books in at the library, and the library manager is putting the stickers in and giving the books back. Other staff members are [also] putting them on," she says. "If the sticker goes missing from the book, there isn't going to be some kind of repercussion."

"Some schools have the kids turning the books in at the library, and the library manager is putting the stickers in and giving the books back."

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Young, the New York Times-bestselling author of The Program YA novels, has continued to tweet about the issue through today: "If you need to do that to feel good about a sticker, then that's okay. Fight the imaginary battle, my friends." She also praised Gilbert High School as full of "brilliant teachers."

Christina Kishimoto, district superintendent, released the following statement this week about this sticker flap: "I worked closely with the Governing Board to provide a solution to last year's matter regarding the District's biology books. The board and I have full confidence in our teachers, and because we trust the way our teachers instruct, we agreed that the stickers on the back cover are the best course of action. We are pleased with the collaboration and completion of this matter."

The Gilbert community represents many opinions and views, Mahoney-Paige says, and because of this, a compromise was needed.

"We can't just ignore one side over another," she says. "There were people who thought were weren't compliance [with the law]. Now, there's no argument."

Another possible upside of the sticker: It removes the burden from the student of having to flip through hundreds of pages of boring text to find the phrase "sexual intercourse." 
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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern