An abstinence-based sexual health program, which has been in existence in Delaware County since at least 2013, has come under fire from local, state and national sources, as questions are raised concerning its content.
The program, SHAPE [Sexual Health Awareness, Prevention and Education], was developed originally as a 10-day initiative for Delaware County schools by volunteer educators with the Abundant Blessing (Pregnancy) Center in Grove and the Lighthouse Pregnancy Center in Jay.
The program, which organizers describe as a way to "focus on healthy relationships through goal setting, parental involvement and healthy self concept" has been taught in Grove, Jay, Moseley, Kenwood, Oaks-Mission and Kansas Public Schools for several years.
It has received funding through various non-governmental sources, including grants from the Grove Rotary Club. It is not provided using federal funds.
Earlier this month, questions about the program came to light as middle schoolers in Jay took part in the classes.
One parent, Mandy Callihan, who is also a teacher within the Jay school system, raised concerns on social media about what was being taught in the program after her 12-year-old daughter came home upset from the class.
In a written statement provided after she received questions from multiple media sources concerning her posts, Callihan said she initially did not see anything wrong with the program.
"At first I didn’t understand why she was so upset," Callihan said. "The first couple of pages, are typical body anatomy that one might expect from a class of this type.
"However when I got to the page that explains the different types/ways to have sex, I was in shock."
Callihan said neither she, or her husband, Jake, had given permission for their daughter to attend a class of this type.
She contends she did not hear anything about the class, be it a "robo call," email or note, before her daughter was exposed to the material.
"I was furious and heartbroken," Callihan said. "Heartbroken because I knew my child had not been ready to hear what she heard, and furious because someone in our school system made the decision that she was."
Callihan later contacted school district officials, as well as regional media, after her post gained traction on line.
As of presstime, the program has been pulled from the Jay Public School System. The school board has not met, since the issue came to light, to make a formal decision about the program.
Callihan said she has been reaching out to organizations in other states "that fought and won getting this particular material [like SHAPE] removed from their district permanently."
"I caution parents to contact schools, ask when the classes will be taught and how they will be notifying parents," Callihan said. "Ask to see the material. If you don’t get answers, handwrite an 'OPT OUT' note to be given to your child’s teachers until you see said material and approve.
"Better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your child. Don’t let someone force statistics on you, it’s your child and your choice."
Her concerns - and the media coverage surrounding her social media postings - have gained traction. On Tuesday, Oct. 24, national religious figure Franklin Graham weighed negatively on the issue, using the story as a platform to call for Christians to run for public school board offices to combat programs like this because they "pervert the minds and steal the innocence of children."
What is SHAPE
SHAPE, or Sexual Health Awareness Prevention and Education, as the program is known in Delaware County, grew out of a similar initiative in Joplin, Missouri.
In November 2013, volunteers from the Abundant Blessing Center in Grove and the DCCP [Delaware County Community Partnership] presented the program to parents within the Grove Public School system for possible implementation.
It was based upon curriculum developed by and trainers taught by the Connection Institute of LifeChoices Medical Clinic in Joplin, Missouri, the classes are designed to provide age-appropriate information.
At the time, Linda Smith, who served as the director of the ABC Center until her death in January, wanted to bring the program to the area because it taught students how to "have healthy relationships through boundary and goal setting, parental involvement, and a healthy self-concept."
S.H.A.P.E., Smith said in 2013, provided students tools to make healthier choices by teaching scientific, medically accurate information regarding their physical development, sexually transmitted infections, myths and truths concerning contraceptives and the realities of teen pregnancy.
Since 2015, the program has expanded to include other districts within the county. This is the second year it has been in the Jay School System.
For Karen Moore, director of the Lighthouse Pregnancy Center in Jay, and one of the key SHAPE leaders, the program has one simple task - to make sure students know age-appropriate truth, not found in other areas of the world.
Moore said many middle school students - despite what parents may think - are partaking in sexual activities. She said SHAPE not only teaches about sex, but also about everything that comes with making the choice to have sex..
The 22-page book includes information about basic anatomy, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted illnesses, types of relationships, the five love languages and boundaries in relationships. It also encourages students to think about what they might be looking for in a long-term, monogamous relationship or marriage.
Along the way, the facilitators, who often include trained youth ministers, parents or other community leaders, talk about setting goals, and other issues including sexting and bullying.
Moore said she wants students to know the truth about relationships and sex - beyond what is commonly available through television, music and social media avenues.
"As we teach the class, we often see light bulbs going on," Moore said, as the students begin to see how the information relates to their own lives.
Moore said the statistics, taught in the lessons, come straight from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
"It's all straight biology and facts about their bodies," she said. "Our goal is to empower them with information, truthful information given to them in a straightforward, non-degrading way."
Moore said because the program is abstinence based, in addition to focusing on the health aspects related to sexual activity, it also talks about the steps involved in healthy relationships.
"We teach them that they are valuable, full of worth and that they have one body, and how they can take care of it," Moore said. "We teach them how to protect their heart, mind, body and soul."
In regards to the the page in the book, which has been used to describe the program by multiple media sources, Moore said the section on the "four types" of sex is part of a larger topic, outlining "What is sex, and is it safe?"
"We just tell them there are four types of sex," Moore said. "We don't tell them how to have sex, or delve into what they are. We don't even stop to take questions."
The questions on the page, which is part of the Day 2 lesson, talks about "what is sex," the "four types" of sex, "why are they sex" and "is sex safe."
"We want [students] to be innocent, but not naive," Moore said. "We train the trainers to use statistics, to present the material using the real terms, instead of slang. We teach them to do it respectfully."
The material is presented with both boys and girls in the room, because Moore said, the two genders learn from each other when it comes to relationship expectations.
"The classes are very interactive," Moore said. "You would be shocked and amazed at what comes out of [the students'] mouths.
"We try to bring it full circle, to get them to think past today, to think about the future and their plans for long-term monogamous relationships such as marriage."
For Amanda Miller, a parent of a seventh-grade girl at Jay, the SHAPE program gave her the tools needed to talk with her daughter about sex.
"This is absolutely teaching our children the things they need to know," Miller said. "We all think our kids are babies until they are not."
Miller said she stands behind the curriculum, as presented by the trainers.
"I see 100 percent solid facts," Miller said, adding that she was in favor of the underlying abstinence only message. "There are more than just physical side effects to sex."
Miller said she worked with her daughter during the class session, to go over the lessons - taking time to answer the questions designed for the parent.
"When I was growing up, nobody ever talked to be about sex. I took a class in the seventh grade that talked about diseases and what happens. But sex was a forbidden word in my home," Miller said. "This opened the door and gave me and my daughter a way to talk about it. We sat down, talked about her concerns and I told her she can always talk to me.
"Nobody wants to talk to their child about anal sex, let me assure you, but if your child can get a disease from it, a conversation needs to take place."
A student's perspective
Payton Miller admits talking about sex - in class and at home - wasn't "necessarily fun" but it was needed.
"In my opinion it taught me more than I ever knew," Payton Miller said. "I already knew about STI's and STD's, and what they stood for, but that was about it.
"At first I felt a bit uncomfortable talking about it, but the last few days, it seemed routine. It was just a class."
On the last day of the class, before district officials canceled it, Payton Miller said she was surprised at how her fellow peers answered the "ladder question" - or ranked the steps of a relationship from initial contact to sexual relationships.
She said several of her classmates ranked kissing and holding hands as something that took place before a couple went out on a first date.
Payton Miller said she's glad the class had homework for parents.
"Now I know [my mom] is actually willing to talk to me," Payton Miller said. "She isn't uncomfortable talking to me about it, because she went through it when she was my age."
In the end, Amanda Miller agrees with one of Callihan's stances. She believes parents should take an active role in the conversation when it comes to their children and sex.
"A lot of kids don't understand that actions can lead to diseases, not just pregnancy," Miller said. "This should be an ongoing conversation, from the time they are little until they become adults."
If You Go
Karen Moore, director of the Lighthouse Pregnancy Center, will host a public forum from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 26, at the Delaware County Library in Jay.
The meeting is designed to answer questions about the SHAPE curriculum and to provide information to concerned parents and community leaders.
For more information about SHAPE, or the Lighthouse Pregnancy Center, persons interested may call 918-253-5472.
Editor's Note: The story has been modified slightly, to clarify when Mandy Callihan provided the statement to regional media sources. She provided it, after multiple sources contacted her with questions. A PDF of the complete SHAPE book has been added to this story. At the parent's request, who provided the book, her answers in the "parent homework" have been redacted. A direct link to the SHAPE book can be found: https://app.box.com/v/SHAPE2017