Parents of children at a prestigious New York grade school have lashed out following a controversial sex education lesson aimed at first-graders. Taught by sex ed teacher Justine Ang Fonte, the lesson reportedly featured frank discussions of masturbation. The ensuing turmoil has dragged Fonte and her unorthodox teaching philosophies into a harsh spotlight.
A Teacher Under Fire
The furor began in the fall of 2020 at the Dalton School, a K-12 prep school in Manhattan, New York. The New York Post reported that Fonte, working as a “health and wellness” educator at the school, conducted a sex-ed class for first graders that included a cartoon where child characters discussed touching themselves.
The cartoon features frank explanations of sexual bodily functions, including erections. It also mentions the act of touching one’s privates for pleasure, although it never uses the word “masturbation.”
According to the New York Post, Fonte has since assured parents that the word “masturbation” does not appear anywhere in her lesson. Furthermore, she said, the point of the cartoon was to teach kids not to touch themselves in public.
Parents React Strongly
Still, some Dalton parents lashed out at Fonte’s lesson, claiming that the school hadn’t been open about the content of the program.
“We are furious,” one mother told the Post. “We were horrified to learn this was shown to our first-grade 6- and 7-year-old kids without our knowledge and consent. But it’s so hard to fight back because you’ll get canceled and your child will suffer.”
Other parents bristled at the lesson’s discussion of consent, which they felt was too extreme, while still others objected to its handling of gender identity.
“Literally parents are supposed to say to their kids, ‘May I hug you?'” one parent commented.
“Ironically, [Fonte] teaches kids about ‘consent’ yet she has never gotten consent from parents about the sexually explicit and age-inappropriate material about transgender to first-graders,” another parent commented.
Yet another parent told the Post that when she confronted the Dalton School, she was told she had “misinterpreted” the lesson.
According to the Post, all these parents spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of public backlash.
Justine Fonte Raises Eyebrows Again
The controversy has resurfaced in recent weeks thanks to another lesson taught by Fonte focused on pornography.
“Everyone was texting each other, ‘What the hell is this? It’s so stupid,'” a student at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School (CGPS) told the Post.
The student had attended a workshop conducted by Fonte at the school called “Pornography Literacy: An intersectional focus on mainstream porn.” The presentation, which was shown to co-ed juniors, included explicit images of partially nude women, some in bondage, in order to examine “what is porn and what is art.”
The slideshow also featured a list of most-searched pornographic terms online in 2019, including “creampie,” “anal,” and “gangbang,” according to the Post.
“We were all so shocked and mortified,” the student told the Post. “We were all like, ‘Why are they doing this? Why do they think it’s OK?”
Parents told the Post the school ignored their requests to see the presentation’s contents after it took place. One mother said she was granted a Zoom conference with school administrators but, as she put it, “the conversation went nowhere.”
In an email sent out to parents following the outcry, Columbia’s head of school William M. Donohue apologized, saying the presentation did not represent the school’s philosophy of health education.
“It was unfortunate that we did not better inform ourselves of the speaker’s specific content in advance,” Donohue said. “In this case, the speaker did not align with our unique CGPS mission and for this, I apologize.”
Dalton School Doubles Down
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Dalton School has issued a statement defending Fonte’s curriculum in the face of renewed scrutiny.
“Dalton does not teach, nor have we ever taught, the type of curriculum that is being suggested,” the statement said. “Our health classes do teach students important lessons related to body positivity, consent, and boundary setting between friends and others. A small number of parents who misinterpreted the lessons this fall and expressed concerns were offered meetings with faculty to clarify. No additional concerns have been expressed to faculty.”
Fonte herself declined to comment when contacted by the Post, instead referring them to administrators at Dalton and Columbia.