File this one under completely inappropriate: a school principal in Norfolk, Virginia was put on administrative leave when parents and school board officials discovered that she had been handing out four-inch-long plastic “fetus dolls” to third, fourth and fifth grade students. The principal, Sheila Tillett Holas, will remain on leave while the school board investigates the situation. It’s unclear whether she knew about the dolls or approved their distribution.
A teacher (who wished to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation from the school) said that attached to the dolls was a “pro-life message” and information about fetal growth during the first twelve weeks of development. Some of the children received the dolls during lunchtime from an employee; parents reported that they were upset by this imposition into their children’s education. One parent said, “I choose to teach my children about those things later in life. I did not sign a waiver for my daughter to be given a fetus.”
The ironic part is that the human fetus isn’t four inches long until about sixteen weeks along, so any information about the first twelve weeks that accompanied these was clearly somewhat incomplete. But factual error aside, the anger that school board members and parents reported is completely justified. “It is hard to imagine that we would have an employee who believes it would be appropriate to share plastic fetus dolls with students in one of our schools,” the school board chairman explained.
It’s outrageous – but perhaps not hard to imagine. After all, in April, Christian high schoolers were prevented from handing out 3,500 of these “fetus dolls” on their campus. And pro-life messaging is often inflammatory and inaccurate – I wrote last fall about the dubious methods by which activists acquire the disturbing images of “aborted fetuses” used in protests and anti-abortion literature. I’m glad that the school has taken swift action to end this kind of behavior, but it shows (in dramatic fashion) how influential school employees are in shaping children’s perceptions of controversial issues like abortion. Even if they’re not handing out “fetus dolls,” the ethics of how teachers should talk about these issues are often quite fraught. The parents and staff of the Norfolk elementary school have every right to be upset, and the employee responsible for the “fetus dolls” clearly cannot keep his or her own ideology out of the classroom, and should be dismissed.
Photo from Flickr.