NEW YORK CITY — A Manhattan teacher facing criticism from parents over sexual health lessons at some prestigious New York City schools said she was teaching students about body agency and consent, not explicit acts as described in newspaper articles.
When it comes to sex education, already a sensitive subject, educator Justine Ang Fonte seemed to be handling it well. She spent nine years with the prestigious Dalton School in Manhattan, seven as its director of health and wellness.
But it was a presentation given to 11th graders at another prep school that drew the attention of the New York Post, citing the anonymous complaints of parents. The topic was Porn Literacy and Consent, and a class she said was well received by students.
“It was about how we need to be reminded that the pornography industry is an entertainment one, not an educational one” says Fonte. “And with the increasing rates of exposure to it, we wanted them to understand it’s not supposed to be an instruction manual to how their body works.”
A week after that came another Post article, once again featuring reports of anonymous and enraged parents, this time at the Dalton School, angry at what they considered masturbation video’s shown to first graders.
The animated cartoon geared toward preschoolers and produced by AMAZE.ORG featured child characters asking questions about their private parts, with an animated adult character explaining what the parts are called and their various functions.
Fonte said those videos are meant to empower children with body awareness.
“It was a lesson about body parts and knowing that they are private and meant to really empower them with body agency,” said Fonte.
Nonetheless, commentators picked up on the story. Soon, Fonte was receiving hateful and even threatening messages in her school inbox and on social media.
She has since resigned from the Dalton School, believing her bosses failed to back her up amidst the criticism and condemnation.
In announcing her resignation, school head Jim Best wrote in June, “Throughout her tenure at Dalton, Justine Ang Fonte has helped to develop an exemplary K-12 Health and Wellness program. Dalton — our faculty, staff and administration and trustees — continue to sand firmly behind this program and those who teach it.”
But Fonte said she feels the school and its trustees did not do enough to make her work feel valued, or make her feel safe in the aftermath caused by what she feels was just a handful of parents.
Fonte said she is undaunted in her mission to educate young people on a subject that some might consider taboo, but to her, it is an important subject to help young people navigated complicated feelings in a complex world.
“Health is a human right,” Fonte said. “And it is unjust that we all do not have equal access to experience it.”