Responding to a complaint filed by the Rhode Island ACLU last September, the Rhode Island Department of Education has issued an advisory to all school districts, instructing them to stop using a federally-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum in the public schools that the ACLU argued raised serious privacy and discrimination concerns.

The curriculum, called “Right Time, Right Place,” was offered in Pawtucket and Woonsocket schools in the past year. In letters sent to DOE Commissioner Peter McWalters, the ACLU argued that the program, run by a private organization, promoted sexist stereotypes, ignored the state’s comprehensive sex education standards, invaded students’ privacy rights and endorsed particular religious views. In an advisory issued last week, the Commissioner agreed.

After obtaining documents relating to the program, the ACLU pointed out to the Commissioner that, among other things, the curriculum:

  • Taught students that “girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts,” and that a man is “strong” and “courageous,” while a “real woman” is “caring”;
  • Included a video whose host explains how abstinence helped him to “honor my relationship with Jesus”; and
  • Required students to complete a survey, while providing identifying information about themselves, that asked a series of personal questions, including “When was the last time you had sex?”

Arguing that this curriculum appeared to “undermine or contradict – rather than supplement – statewide anti-discrimination policies or comprehensive sex education mandates,” the ACLU had 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 its illegality. In a memo sent out to school districts last week, the Commissioner did that. The two-page advisory sent by the Commissioner last week makes clear that “Right Time, Right Place” is not appropriate for use as part of public school health curricula. The memo also requires all school districts in the state to submit for the Department’s review a copy of their school health education curriculum.

RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown said today: “We are very pleased with the state’s response to the completely inappropriate use of a curriculum that uses taxpayer dollars to support discriminatory and religious teachings in the public schools. Students deserve facts, not sexism and sectarianism, in their sex education programs.” 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.