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School takes kids on ‘field trip’ to sex shop


School takes kids on ‘field trip’ to sex shop
‘It’s just a major breach of trust … you can’t erase those images’

by Leo Hohmann

Parents who send their kids to the Gaia Democratic School intend for them to get a liberal education, but when the school took a group of teens and pre-teens to an adult novelty store for a lesson in sex education, some parents balked.

At least a few parents at the private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hit the roof when they found out about the so-called “field trip,” reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune in its June 2 online edition.

“It’s just a major breach of trust,” one parent, Lynn Floyd, told the newspaper. Her 11- and 13-year-old daughters were among the students taken to the Smitten Kitten late last week.

The leader of the small Minneapolis school took about a dozen middle- and high-school-aged students on the “field trip” to the sex shop in which pornographic magazine covers and products were in full view of the children.

“You just can’t erase those images,” Floyd told the Star-Tribune.

The director of Gaia Democratic School and the host of the field trip defended the outing to the local newspaper, saying it represented the climax of a months-long sex-education class.

Starri Hedges, the school’s director who also teaches sex-education, told the Star-Tribune she wanted to provide a “safe and welcoming” environment for students to learn about human sexuality.

“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 told the Star-Tribune Monday.

Gaia is a K-12 school with a motto promising academic freedom, youth empowerment and democratic education along with what some would call an extremist view on the environment.

According to its webite, the Gaia school teaches students to be “one with the universe” and to raise the consciousness of humankind to a new level of sensitivity about the inherent goodness of all people.

The school has about 25 students, including several described by administrators as “transgender,” according to the Star-Tribune article.

But the school, which is housed in a Unitarian Universalist Church in Minneapolis, appears to be affiliated with the larger Gaia movement.

“We believe that this understanding of being one with the universe can raise people’s awareness about our environment, us and our function. This can lead to some positive changes that our planet desperately needs,” according to the school’s website.

A display in the window at the “Smitten Kitten” adult novelty store in Minneapolis.

A display in the window at the “Smitten Kitten” adult novelty store in Minneapolis.

During their visit to the Smitten Kitten, students sat in a library section of the store, Hedges said. Everything deemed pornographic was off limits to the students, though sex toys, publications and other products were visible, Hedges told the Star-Tribune.

The field trip offered students access to “educators” and products that could be used to practice safer sex, Hedges told the local paper. Some students bought condoms.

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 “educational” workshops.

The store’s website displays products such as vibrators, “bondage ropes” and “harnesses” including one called the “ruffian harness” for rough sex. Books include “Swingset: Adventures in Swinging and Polyamory.”

“Our entire staff is made up of trained sex educators who love fielding questions about sex – the more obscure or challenging, the better,” the store says in the “about us” section of its website.

And the way Hedges sees it, no child is necessarily too young to learn about safe sex.

“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 learned about the visit after the girls told their mother. Floyd and his former wife immediately pulled the two daughters out of school, along with their youngest daughter, 9.
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 told the Star-Tribune.

Hedges admits she “unfortunately didn’t communicate well enough with parents ahead of time” about the field trip.

It is “not clear” whether the field trip broke any laws, according to the Star-Tribune.
Minneapolis city code states that those younger than 18 should not be exposed to “sexually provocative written, photographic, printed, sound, or published materials deemed harmful to minors.”

Grant Wilson, Minneapolis business license manager, told the Star-Tribune that if a store had explicit adult toys in plain view then they shouldn’t be allowed to have minors in the store. He said he would deploy an inspector in the next few days to see if the store broke any laws.

“Without looking at the laws or anything, that was poor judgment,” Wilson told the local paper.

However, WND conducted a search and found two Minnesota statutes that the visit to the adult store would seem to have violated.

MS 617.293 Harmful Materials; Dissemination and Display to Minors Prohibited. States that it is unlawful for any person knowingly to sell or loan to a minor any picture, drawing, film etc which depicts nudity, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse which is harmful to minors. It is also unlawful to exhibit this material where minors can see it. This is deemed to be a gross misdemeanor.
MS 617.294 Exhibition Prohibited. It is defined as an offense for any person knowingly to exhibit to a minor or to knowingly admit a minor to a place of public accommodation where there is exhibited a motion picture, show or other presentation which depicts nudity, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors. This is punishable as a gross misdemeanor.

The store’s owner, Jennifer Pritchett, said in an e-mail Monday that she considers Smitten Kitten to be “an educational resource about sex and sexuality. … We leave it up to the discretion of parents and guardians as to when, if, and in what capacity they seek resources from our educators.”

Josh Collins, spokesman with the Minnesota Department of Education, said Gaia is a private school, so the state has no authority. “I don’t think anybody would think that going to the Smitten Kitten is a great idea,” he told the Star-Tribune.

Hedges told the newspaper she was disappointed that the class’s trip to the adult store caused such controversy.

“It was certainly the first time we have taken that kind of field trip and it will probably be our last, which I feel bad [about] because the kids had so much fun,” Hedges said.


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