About a dozen middle and high school-aged students in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were taken on a private school-sponsored field trip to an adult novelty store last week.
The director of the private Gaia Democratic School in Minneapolis, Starri Hedges, took the kids, some as young as 11 years old, to sex shop “Smitten Kitten” as part of a sex education lesson and defended the outing by saying the visit capped a month-long sex education class.
Some parents were outraged.
“It’s just a major breach of trust,” said parent Lynn Floyd, whose 11- and 13-year-old daughters were part of the outing to the Smitten Kitten. “You just can’t erase those images.”
He added that parents were not even notified ahead of the trip and he only learned about the visit after his girls told their mother. He said they had been traumatized by products, discussions and images.
Floyd and his ex-wife immediately pulled the two daughters out of school, along with their youngest daughter, age 9.
“We feel that the bond of trust between parent and educator has been irrevocably damaged,” he wrote in a letter to the school, according to WCCO-TV.
Hedges, who also teaches the school’s sex education class, said she wanted to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students to learn about human sexual behavior.
“What I saw happening on our trip, I thought it was beautiful because kids could talk to these sex educators without any shame, without any fear,” Hedges said in a statement on Monday, according to the Star Tribune.
“The sexual health aspect, there is no right age for all kids,” Hedges said. “You can’t say, ‘All kids should know this at this age.’ There are students that are already going through puberty at 10 or 11.”
Floyd said he is most troubled that parents were never notified before the trip. “I just struggled to think that I wasn’t involved in that,” he said.
Hedges said that she “unfortunately didn’t communicate well enough with parents ahead of time” about the trip.
Gaia is a K-12 school with a motto promising academic freedom, youth empowerment, democratic education, and environmental stewardship. Parents say the school has about 25 students, including several described by administrators as transgender.
Students were reportedly shielded from content deemed “pornographic” while at Smitten Kitten, but sex toys and other adult products were reportedly visible to the kids.
Smitten Kitten, which bills itself as “a progressive sex toy store for everyone,” sells a range of toys and leather products as well as books and DVDs. The store also offers workshops, like the kind the students participated in.
Some students even bought condoms.
In a statement, Smitten Kitten’s owner Jennifer Pritchett said her store is an educational resource about sex and sexuality for the community:
“We leave it up to the discretion of parents and guardians as to when, and in what capacity, they seek resources from our educators.”
Minneapolis Business License Manager Grant Wilson told the Star Tribune that the school displayed “poor judgement” and his office would be looking into whether the store broke any laws pertaining to explicit material and minors.
According to Minnesota Department of Education spokesman, Josh Collins, the state has no authority over the school’s actions since it is a private school.
But Minneapolis City Attorney, Susan Segal, said the sex store may face consequences for not obeying a zoning ordinance and a city ordinance that states those under 18 should not be exposed to “sexually provocative written, photographic, printed, sound, or published materials deemed harmful to others,” according to an AP wire posted on Huffington Post.
Hedges also said it was the “first time we have taken that kind of field trip and it will probably be our last,” which she explained makes her feel bad “because the kids had so much fun.”