Whitney Young High School pulls plug on 'troubling' sex ed programs after lawsuit filed by parents

By Cook County Record | Apr 19, 2018

Editor's note: This article has been revised to clarify certain language concerning the positions and opinions of the plaintiffs.

Parents of students at Chicago’s Whitney Young High School are claiming a victory over Chicago Public Schools officials, after the high school cancelled a sex education program for junior and senior students the parents described as “deeply troubling” and which the parents alleged in a court filing was “illegal, contrary to Chicago Public School policy, and otherwise reflecting poor judgment against the best interests of Whitney Young students.”

On April 19, attorneys from the Chicago-based Thomas More Society announced administrators at Whitney Young Magnet High School had put a hold on the program, which had been scheduled for April 17, after a parent, identified as Sally Wagenmaker, notified school officials of her intent to seek a court order barring the school from continuing with the program.

“The seemingly promiscuous program was cancelled, the problems are being addressed in and out of court,” Wagenmaker said in a prepared statement. “I’m counting this as a victory for Chicago public school parents and their children.”

Wagenmaker and her husband, Daniel Wagenmaker, who said they are the parents of a senior at Whitney Young, as well as on behalf of “other concerned parents,” filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court on April 16, at that time seeking emergency action and a temporary restraining order from the court over the sex education program.

The court action was launched about eight days after the Wagenmakers said they and other parents first became aware, from an email sent by Whitney Young administrators on Sunday, April 8, of the school’s plans to host the sex education program on April 17, featuring a guest presenter, identified as Dr. Nicolette Pawlowski.

According to a copy of a portion of the email from administrators included in the complaint, Pawlowski, in a session titled “Straight Talk on Bodies, Relationships & Consent,” had been scheduled to address 7th and 8th grade students on April 10. She would then present to Whitney Young freshmen, juniors and seniors, in separate sessions, on Tuesday, April 17, in presentations titled “Not the Birds and the Bees: Real Talk on Relationships, Sexuality and Consent” for juniors and freshmen, and “University Life: Sexuality and Dating” for seniors.

The Wagenmakers said the Sunday evening email was the only notice provided of the seminars to that point, and no “express option” was provided in the April 8 email "for parents and guardian to ‘opt out’ of the presentations.” Later communications from the school on April 12 provided information on how to opt out. However, the plaintiffs said school policy requires two weeks notice of such programs to allow parents to review the information.

Further, the complaint asserted, school officials refused or were slow to respond to repeated requests from the Wagenmakers to provide more information about who Pawlowski was, “educational materials … or other details so that parents and guardians could make informed decisions about sensitive matters of sexuality involving their own children.”

However, in researching on their own, the Wagenmakers said they discovered Pawlowski has authored a column, titled “Hump Day,” in which she published articles headlined, “Porn hardcore enough for Republicans and 11 year olds,” “Playing it safe: Why hooking up safely with others is normal” and “Like a virgin: How to ‘ease’ in to first time.”

They cited articles published by Pawlowski purportedly extoling the virtues of pornography and seeming to encourage one-night stands.

Her current website, the Wagenmakers said, lists Pawlowski as CEO of a company identified as Apassionato Co., “where she designs and facilitates programs that, among other sex subjects, focus on ‘kink.’”

The parents said they questioned whether Pawlowski has changed her positions on such “risky” sexual actions, or would use the program to encourage students to “explore” them, which they said, runs counter to Illinois law and Chicago Public Schools policies which, they said, “reflect a strong emphasis on abstinence and avoidance of risky sexual behaviors, such as those advocated by Pawlowski.”

Despite multiple requests, the Wagenmakers said the school refused to provide any information contesting their findings. In an email to The Cook County Record, plaintiffs noted school officials attempted to allay their concerns, particularly by noting Pawlowski had written her commentaries to an "adult audience."

In addition to allegedly violating the rights of parents, the Wagenmakers asserted the lack of notice concerning the programs and alleged unresponsiveness to parents’ requests and concerns violated “the law applicable to Whitney Young as an Illinois public school,” including the Illinois School Code, the Illinois Critical Health Problems and Comprehensive Health Education Act, the Chicago Public Schools Policy Manual titled ‘Sexual Health Education,” and the CPS “Sexual Health Education Toolkit.”

In a hearing April 18, CPS lawyers informed a Cook County judge the sessions had been cancelled, prompting the Wagenmakers to withdraw their petition for emergency intervention. However, the Wagenmakers said they intend to continue with their lawsuit to continue "to ensure Whitney Young’s compliance with applicable law and published policy."

A CPS spokesperson was contacted by The Cook County Record, but has not provided comment or reaction to this case.

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Organizations in this Story

Chicago Public Schools (merged) Thomas More Society Whitney M. Young Magnet High School

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