Pro-abstinence speaker sparks controversy at Kanawha Co. high sc - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Pro-abstinence speaker sparks controversy at Kanawha Co. high schools

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Pam Stenzel says people should wait until marriage to have sex. This week she brought her message to two high schools in Kanawha County, prompting one student to file a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Katelyn Campbell, a student at George Washington High School, said a school assembly featuring Stenzel deeply offended several students.

"Although Stenzel never specifically mentioned God, many students felt uncomfortable with her outright condemnation of any and everyone who has ever had premarital sexual contact," wrote Campbell in an e-mail sent to an ACLU representative.

Stenzel is a speaker who focuses on the importance of abstinence. She founded Enlighten Communications, a nonprofit aimed at providing abstinence education for teenagers. She's talked to more than 500,000 students, parents and administrators across the country, according to her personal website.

Students who attend Riverside High School and George Washington High School now belong to the long list of places Stenzel has visited. Some students and parents say they're disturbed by the way Stenzel presented her beliefs.

"It felt really inappropriate to be given in a public school," said Carly Thaw, a junior at GWHS. "The way she approached the topic made everyone feel uncomfortable, regardless if you've had sex or not."

Colin Hearn, the president of Enlighten Communications, said Stenzel, who ultimately touts a "faith-based" message, respects the separation of church and state when speaking in public schools.

Thaw claims Stenzel yelled at the students, used the word, "sluts," and said she could pick out who was promiscuous in the crowd based on how they dressed.

Several videos of Stenzel's speeches can be found online. In these clips she's recorded saying, "It's so sad when kids say, 'I want to have sex before marriage,'" and "You think a virgin would ever want you?" referring to those who have engaged in premarital sex.

The presentation lasted one hour and students were allowed to leave the assembly if they became uncomfortable, according to Valerie Harper and George Aulenbacher, the principals of Riverside HS and George Washington HS, respectively.

Harper and Aulenbacher said the organization, Believe in West Virginia Leadership Foundation, donated $5,000 to hire Stenzel for the speaking engagement. The group describes itself as a "Christ-centered catalyst helping transform the economic, political, social and spiritual environment of West Virginia" according to its website.

Other students say Stenzel opened their eyes.

"I think more kids should hear what she has to say," said Taya Palmer, a GW freshman. "She kept it funny but told us things we needed to hear."

Cheri Heflin-Callaghan has four children who attend GWHS. She said she hopes administrators give fair play to all options when discussing sex education.

"I want my kids to know they have choices," said Callaghan. "That ranges from everything to abstinence to terminating a pregnancy."

By state law, public schools are required to offer comprehensive sex education, according to Mary Weikle, the coordinator for the Office of Healthy Schools within the West Virginia Department of Education. She defines "comprehensive" as "medically accurate sexual education."

Weikle explained that public schools cannot offer "abstinence-only classes," but can offer resources that are "abstinence-based." Parents have the right to review the materials and can opt their child out of certain health courses. The content of each school's curriculum is determined by county school boards and the administrators of individual schools.

"What you choose to use for that instruction is a local decision," Weikle said.

Aulenbacher said he organized the assembly at GWHS in light of graduation and prom. He said his staff regularly provides resources touting other safe alternatives to abstinence at GWHS. "I'm not a health teacher but I'm confident they present both sides."

The principal said a GW alumni approached him about inviting Stenzel to speak.

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