As an apparent result of intimidation tactics by a local anti-abortion activist, three high schools in Colorado Springs largest school district have dropped Planned Parenthood from their sex education curriculums.
Administrators at Palmer, Mitchell and Wasson high schools have canceled the guest speakers, who have been welcomed into high schools for 17 years, effective immediately. Their decisions come just a month after the school board voted to continue to allow Planned Parenthood over the objections of several members, including Eric Christen, Craig Cox and Willie Breazell.
And in October, anti-abortion activist Mike Gamble provoked an uproar after parking a truck displaying large posters of depictions of aborted fetuses outside Palmer High School the day a speaker from that organization was scheduled to meet students. Gamble spent the better part of that day distributing a flyer that attacked Planned Parenthood and identifed the teacher whose class was being visited by the health organization.
High school administrators viewed the tactic as threatening to their staffs, said School District 11 spokeswoman Elaine Naleski.
"Our principals also don't want to subject their students to the same thing that happened at Palmer," she said of the distraction of the protest there.
Gamble also used open records laws last month to obtain information about what part other district employees played with regard to inviting speakers from Planned Parenthood and the Colorado AIDS Project.
Naleski said the district did not provide Gamble with personal information about teachers.
Gamble did not return calls seeking comment. But the flyers he distributed last year at Palmer were harshly worded, demonizing educators for inviting Planned Parenthood to speak to students in health classes: "Liberal teachers think it balanced if they talk about not killing babies, then invite baby killers to talk about their position. Planned Parenthood also gives balanced treatment to pedophilia and bestiality."
Kate Horle, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, was staggered by the language.
Gamble's protest, she said, left some with the false impression that Planned Parenthood spoke to students about abortion in classrooms. The organization's educators spoke only about abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases and ways students could protect themselves, Horle said.
She said she is disappointed that Planned Parenthood's educators will not be part of classes, but said given the circumstances, she understands the decision.
"It is a very intimidating atmosphere," she said.
School principals contacted for this story would vaguely explain why they chose to discontinue Planned Parenthood's presentations.
"We have a very scared staff and teachers," said Palmer High School Principal Karin Reynolds. "It's for safety and security."
Added Mitchell Principal Jerry Anderson: "It's a decision we made in the best interest of everyone because of the climate."
Karen Teja, a member of the district's board who voted against banning Planned Parenthood, said school administrators ultimately had to assess school by school what was best for their students and staff.
"Safety is number one," she said.
In addition to dropping Planned Parenthood, Palmer High School has also discontinued guest speakers from Life Network, a group that teaches abstinence until marriage, Reynolds said. The school's health classes could be taught exclusively "in house," although the expertise of visiting educators would be missed, she added.
In recent years, the district's two other high schools, Doherty and Coronado, have not invited Planned Parenthood to speak to their students.
-- Michael deYoanna