Fairbanks School Board gains national attention following sex education controversy

Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 6:11 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board gained national attention after a decision in October to delay consideration on the use of certain sex education materials in district classrooms.

Dr. Danielle Jones is the creator of one of the resources, a YouTube video discussing topics related to sex education.

In December, she posted a video in which she watched the board debate the material and reacted in real time.

The video has, so far, reached more than half a million views.

Dr. Jones is a practicing OB/GYN and creator of a series of YouTube videos under the handle MamaDoctorJones.

These videos aim to teach viewers about various topics relating to sex education. “Sex ed, health, gynecology, periods, pregnancy, all of these things are kind of taboo to talk about, and I saw a space there for education in a way that people really want to learn,” Dr. Jones said.

According to Jones, her videos are geared toward teens through adulthood.

She says long-term sex education curriculums are associated with individuals starting sexual activity at an older age. “This idea that if we don’t talk about it, nobody will do it is blatantly false and proven to be false in the data on this,” she said.

On October 19, one of her videos came before the school board for potential use in a sex education curriculum. “Nobody told me they were even being brought up,” she said, asking, “How can you be having this entire public discourse about me and what I do without ever even saying ‘Hey, this is happening?’”

After board comments and discussion, the materials were shelved for further vetting before potentially being brought up again in the future.. “Someone just Tweeted it at me... and then I read the articles and then I thought ‘Well, I’m just going to watch the school board meeting.”

In December, Dr. Jones created a video in which she reacted to the meeting. She said. “It was a whole range of emotions.” “Some of the members not even knowing what I do and accusing my topics of being unreliable,” she added. “I took more issue with how the videos were discussed than the fact that they didn’t want them used.”

Since the controversy erupted, Dr. Jones said she received a number of messages from Fairbanks students saying, “‘This is insane. We’re already watching your videos’, and I would like to relay that to the parents, that it doesn’t matter what you want your kids to learn about sex. They’re learning somewhere.”

She spoke to the general value of sex education for teens, saying “Handicapping our kids by not giving them the knowledge to be empowered is never going to be the right answer.”

As of Thursday, Dr. Jones’ YouTube page has more than 1 million subscribers.

Members of the school board also commented on the controversy and the materials presented, including the video by Dr. Jones.

According to board member April Smith, “Those materials are still not banned by the Fairbanks School Board. They are just still under further review. It was not ready for a vote.”

Smith says she doesn’t think the school board found Dr. Jones’ video personally offensive or explicit. “I felt that the video submitted by Dr. Jones was just a clinical video with factual information, and it was a fine video for students to view.”

Board member Erin Morotti said, “I found it, in my own personal opinion, science-based, teen-relatable material, expert advice from a board-certified doctor.”

Smith said of her concerns, “It’s more that the venue of YouTube is an unsafe venue for our students to venture into to find information on sexual health.”

One issue discussed at the school board meeting was the potential for students to be exposed to related videos on YouTube. “It really opened up the door for explicit content to be forwarded to our students,” Smith said.

Another issue Smith discussed is that the materials were presented for grades 6 through 12. “There’s really a huge psychological difference between a sixth grader, who might be 11 years old, and a high schooler, who is usually 14,” explained Smith, adding, “Some of the videos I found completely appropriate for a 17-year-old, but not for an 11-year-old.”

According to Smith, the materials, being supplemental, were not vetted before being brought to the school board, and that as such, “They are not from, necessarily, sources that everyone in our community can find reputable and support.”

This question was made more difficult by a shortage of results on a public survey released about the material. Morotti said, “I want the community to be more involved in this process. I need it to be more transparent.”

In response to the situation, the process for approving these materials has changed. According to Morotti, “They are creating a new process for supplemental sex education material review that will include the Curriculum Committee to review the material before it comes to the board.”

Both Smith and Morotti spoke about what responsibility the school district has to teach sex education, with Morotti saying, “I absolutely feel that sex education, comprehensive sex education, should be mandatory in all of our schools.”

Smith said, “It begins with, of course, biology, anatomy, physiology. It also does, in secondary, particularly in high school, extend into social responsibility and safety and general health.”

The materials in question may be presented to the board again at a later date.

In the meanwhile, Morotti says she hopes to see Dr. Jones’ video among the submitted materials next time around.

Our first story speaking with Dr. Jones can be found below.

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