Daniel Sparks, a junior at Parma Senior High, delivered the following testimony before the Parma school board last week:

I am here today because a lack of sexual health education has and continues to plague my friends, my school, and my community. Rather than teach age-appropriate and medically accurate information, this school district has opted for an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach by inviting Operation Keepsake into our middle and high schools. In doing this, the Parma City School District has demonstrated a desire to maintain a policy of poor public health rather than work towards a viable solution.

Operation Keepsake was more like a lesson based on singular set of morals and values, rather than being based on an objective principle of providing young people with the information necessary to lead a sexually safe and healthy life. In the classroom, it was as if marriage was superior to our health, and it was hard for me to concentrate on marriage when I was only 14.

The ineffectiveness of the program haunts me to this day. For one, I later learned that the education my school had supposedly provided me with was useless. Of course I learned that premarital sex is damaging, but I failed to conceptualize that many STIs are, too. This was represented to me when our instructor had us pass around a piece of tape, stick it to our clothes, and pass it to our neighbors. As I look back, the sole purpose of this was to scare us into believing that we would contract infections, get pregnant, or simply carry with us, as they called it, “baggage.”

Operation Keepsake has made me question education as a whole, for while they scared us into understanding what could go wrong, they afforded us no information on how things could go right, on how to protect ourselves, on the effectiveness of contraception, and empowering us with knowledge to make the right decisions before making the wrong ones. There is a burden of responsibility placed wrongly on students and teenagers, for how can we be responsible when we are not taught how to be?

As a teenager, I've learned that marriage is not a good enough reason to remain abstinent. In my own
pursuit, I've found that my health, my body, my mind, and my emotions matter more to me than my future
partner receiving me pure, and free from baggage. Furthermore, as a gay student, how can I be expected to uphold a standard of abstinence-until-marriage when I live in a state where I cannot marry? Right now, my very own school district is allowing myself and countless others to be left out of a curriculum so necessary and so needed. Although we learn about such unequal treatment in our history classes, I had the unfortunate experience of wondering where I fit in a curriculum so set to mold students to their respective gender stereotype.

Luckily, through my work at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center and The AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, I have learned the information vital to my sexual health. The
knowledge that I have gained has instilled in me not only the power to make the decision to be abstinent,
but it has also made me confident in my decision. I have no thanks for Operation Keepsake, for, if
anything, they hindered my ability to make responsible decisions based on objective information. I am
fortunate to stand out from the masses at Parma Senior High School who often leave Operation Keepsake in a state far worse than that of when they entered, and who are vulnerable to the happenings of unsafe sex.

But I should not be standing out. The Parma City Schools has a responsibility to provide its students with
information imperative for their health and well-being.

This district claims to operate with a mission to “educate, nurture and graduate engaged students who are
critical thinkers and problem solvers prepared to communicate, collaborate and contribute to a global society.” After nineteen months of trying to communicate, collaborate, and contribute with this district, I have yet to meet or speak with the person who has the decision-making power over this issue. I have sent
approximately 24 letters and information packets, made roughly 15 phone calls, and have sent over ten
e-mails to administrators, board members, and health teachers, all to no avail. Based on this behavior, it
seems more likely that any student attempting to communicate, collaborate, or contribute to this district
will learn how to give up before they learn the true tenets of democracy.

Although I have exhausted nearly every means of communication with this district, I will not back down, for this is an issue that has effected me, that will effect my peers, and will continue to plague this community until something is done about. It is my hope that you will see young people as a part of a solution, rather than as part of a problem for I voiced my concerns to my teacher and nothing happened. I met with my principal and nothing happened. One board member directed me to the deputy superintendent who, in turn, forwarded my request for a meeting to the director of academic services. After meeting with Laura Watson, noting happened, and I was directed back to the board. Tonight, after much run-around, I ask, who has the authority to decide on this issue and how soon can I meet with that person? — Danny Sparks

Danny has a meeting with the superintendent on March 4.

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