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2 priests object to sex ed video

Shown to 6th grade in North Allegheny

Monday, February 18, 2002

By Scott Deacle, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Two Catholic priests have raised objections to a sex education video that is being shown to sixth-graders in the North Allegheny School District.

That has come as a surprise to the video's producer -- a self-described conservative Christian who is director of men's ministries at a Presbyterian Church and who is studying to become a minister.

Barry Pintar, a former television news reporter who later produced educational documentaries, set out seven years ago to make a documentary for sex education that wouldn't offend anyone. He produced "Puberty: Bodies in Progress," a series of three videos.

It was used in the North Allegheny district last year without apparent controversy.

Pintar was taken aback when he learned recently that two priests want North Allegheny to stop showing the video.

The Rev. Edward L. Yuhas, parochial vicar at Sts. John and Paul Catholic Church in Franklin Park, and the Rev. Paul Zywan, pastor of St. Alexis Catholic Church in Wexford, have sent letters to parishioners explaining their objections to the video.

The priests criticized the school district for showing the video to boys and girls at the same time. They consider the video's cartoon images of naked bodies inappropriate for sixth-graders, and they take issue with the video's tone, which Yuhas called "brash and flippant."

Pintar is director of men's ministries at Memorial Park Presbyterian Church in Allison Park, and he took ordination exams last week at the traditionally oriented Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Point Breeze.

For the video, he filmed Diana Chiaverini, a nurse at Magee-Womens Hospital, talking about puberty to students at Reizenstein Middle School in Shadyside. Interspersed are interviews with six adolescents at different stages of puberty, as well as explanations of body parts, menstruation, erections and wet dreams.

Pintar said he avoided talk of condoms, abortions, homosexuality and masturbation, saying he wanted to accommodate parents uncomfortable with their children learning about those topics at school.

The video shows two dimensional images of naked boys' and girls' bodies. Parts of the images are shaded the color of Caucasian skin. Other parts are shaded red, blue or purple.

"It's nothing more than seeing a naked baby getting a diaper changed," he said.

Discussion of sex is couched in general terms and implies the act happens during marriage.

Early in the video, an announcer discourages laughing and crude comments but tells children it's natural to giggle. Chiaverini then recounts a conversation with a friend's daughter, who once told her she didn't need to come to her class because she already knew about "boobies and fur."

The statement may have led to a perception that the video has a flippant tone, but Chiaverini was merely trying to help students relax, Pintar said.

When North Allegheny sixth-graders watch the video in March, it will mark the second year the district has shown the video.

But some parents only brought it to the priests' attention this year, Zywan said.

Zywan said he recently watched the video with church and school district representatives and was bothered by its methods and language.

"I'm just disappointed something as beautiful as sexuality is being passed on in a perhaps relevant but irreverent way," he said.

In his letter, Yuhas faulted the video for telling students body parts are designed by nature rather than in the image of God. He also criticized it for equating sex with love, and told parents many students aren't mature enough to filter out subtle messages in the video that he thinks are contrary to the Catholic faith.

Both priests encourage parents to review North Allegheny's video and "Catholic Vision of Love," the curriculum the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese uses in its schools.

The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese, said he hasn't seen the video but has discussed it with Zywan. "We would be supportive of what he is doing in sending home the church's position," Lengwin said.

A committee of teachers and nurses selected the video and administrators reviewed it, said Frank Brettschneider, assistant superintendent for elementary education and curriculum. It was tested in focus groups that included parents whose response was "very favorable," he said.

The school board adopted it almost two years ago when it approved the district's entire curriculum on human growth and development.

Parents may watch the video before their children see it. They can request that their child be excused from watching it, and the child will get another assignment. That happened with fewer than five children last year, Brettschneider said, and no parents so far have said that they don't want their children watching the video next month because of the priests' objections.

"We've had more complaints about Harry Potter," he said.

The complaints from North Allegheny are the first Pintar has heard about "Bodies in Progress," which is listed as a bestseller in at least one educational media catalog.

He said he's still proud of it.

"If I made it today," Pintar said, "I would do the exact same thing."

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