A Sutter Middle School teacher who recently aired graphic abortion videos to students during a sex-education class is in hot water with the Sacramento City Unified School District.
The district launched an investigation following complaints from parents whose children had seen the videos, which depict how abortions are performed during various stages of pregnancy. The videos are narrated by physician and anti-abortion activist Anthony Levatino, who describes in detail the process for performing the procedures and urges viewers to "protect the pre-born."
The classroom presentation, shown earlier this month, included a music video titled "Can I Live?" in which the artist thanks his mother for her decision to forgo an abortion.
School district spokesman Alex Barrios said Tuesday that the videos are "completely inappropriate for the classroom" and fail to "meet the district's approved family life and sexuality curriculum."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Barrios said the district "will address this matter with the seriousness it demands." He did not identify the teacher, citing confidentiality policies regarding personnel matters.
Parents told The Bee that the teacher is Jenny Thomas, whose specialty is science. Among their responsibilities, science teachers are tasked with educating students about family life and human sexuality. Parents described Thomas as a good teacher, and said they believed she has never used the videos in previous classes.
The district's investigation will seek to determine "how this happened," Barrios said of the presentation.
According to the district's written policies, family life and sex education classes should "help students understand the biological, psychological, social, moral and ethical aspects of human sexuality and shall comply with the requirements of law and administrative regulation."
District policies do not directly address teaching about abortion, but do outline policies for discussion of "controversial issues" in the classroom.
The district's governing board "believes that students should have opportunities to discuss controversial issues which have political, social or economic significance and which the students are mature enough to investigate and address," the policy reads. The curriculum should "help students learn how to gather and organize pertinent facts, discriminate between fact and fiction, draw intelligent conclusions and respect the opinions of others."
Teachers should "exercise caution and discretion" in deciding whether a particular issue is suitable for study or discussion, the policy says. The governing board "expects teachers to ensure that all sides of a controversial issue are impartially presented."
Some parents who viewed the anti-abortion videos after learning about the class presentation said they found them to be disturbing and inappropriate. They reported their concerns to Thomas and to her principal, Cristin Tahara-Martin, two parents told The Bee.
The parents, who said they did not want to be identified for fear that their children might face social repercussions for reporting their teacher's actions, said Thomas has apologized for the anti-abortion presentation.
Neither Thomas nor Tahara-Martin responded to a request from The Bee for comment about the matter.
The series of YouTube videos featuring Levatino demonstrating how doctors perform abortions in the first, second and third trimesters of pregnancy. In the first trimester, Levatino says, a suction machine is activated and "the baby is rapidly torn apart." The video features a graphic depiction of a fetus being destroyed.
Levatino tells his audience that he performed hundreds of abortions before having an epiphany. "I looked at the remains of a pre-born child whose life I had ended, and all I could see was someone's son or daughter," he says.
He hosts similar presentations of abortions in the second and third trimester, describing how the fetus's head "is grasped and crushed" in the process.
The videos also cite risks and complications of pregnancies, including the possibility of death to the mother.
The "Can I Live?" video, directed by rapper Nick Cannon, thanks his mother for deciding against aborting him when she became pregnant as a teenager.
One parent of a student who viewed the videos said she believes abortion is a topic worthy of addressing in school, but that the videos are "biased, misleading and graphic" and should never have been included.
"We all know that the subject of abortion is sensitive, complex and controversial, and I personally don't think it belongs as a topic to go into in any depth in a seventh-grade class," she said. The topic, she said, "requires a thoughtful, nuanced discussion." The videos that dozens of children saw, she said, "cannot be unseen."