As part of a national campaign aimed at combating questionable federally-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula in the public schools, the ACLU of Rhode Island has called on the state Department of Education to review one such program in the state. The ACLU said that the curriculum, called “Right Time, Right Place,” raises serious privacy and discrimination concerns.

According to the ACLU, the curriculum was offered in at least one high school in Pawtucket last year until parental complaints prompted its removal. However, no information is available as to whether it is being taught in other schools in the state. In a three-page letter that has been sent to DOE Commissioner Peter McWalters, the ACLU argues that the program, which is run by a private organization, promotes inappropriate and sexist stereotypes. For example, the program’s student manual states that “males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy,” and so advises that “girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” Similarly, in describing “what makes a man” and “what makes a woman,” the manual describes men as being “strong,” “respectful,” “courageous,” and “protect[ive].” By contrast, a “real woman” is, among other traits, “caring” and “sends a clear message” by choosing her “clothes, expression and gestures carefully.”

The ACLU’s letter also notes that the program, when it was taught in Pawtucket, illegally required students to complete a survey that asked students a series of personal questions relating to sexual activities, including “When was the last time you had sex?” and whether they agreed or disagreed with such statements as “It is all right for teenagers to have sex before marriage if they are in love.” The survey also asked students to provide identifying information that destroyed any anonymity. The ACLU pointed out that state law prohibits such intrusive surveys without formal approval of both the local school committee and the Department of Education.

Arguing that this curriculum “may undermine or contradict – rather than supplement – statewide anti-discrimination policies or comprehensive sex education mandates,” the ACLU called on the DOE to determine both how and where the curriculum was being used elsewhere in Rhode Island, and to advise school officials of the illegality of the program’s survey.

Tracey Ross, the mother of two children in Pawtucket who first raised concerns about the “Right Time, Right Place” program, explained her opposition by stating that “after researching this program, it became clear to me that abstinence may not be its only message.  Elements of gender bias are woven throughout.  Fear and shame are firmly instilled, and large numbers of people are isolated or ignored, as their homes may not fit the ‘norm’ represented as the only proper way of life. Even including an abstinence-only until marriage program as an element of a comprehensive program, creates the task of having to undo the contradictions.” Although studies have raised numerous questions about their effectiveness, the federal government has poured nearly a billion dollars into abstinence-only-until-marriage programs since 1997.