Our niece is enrolled at Starkville High School, in Starkville, Mississippi. On November 12, 2015, she was required to do a "career talk" with demonstration for her Honors English class - her topic of choice was "sexologist" (i.e., the career choices of Alfred Kinsey, Ruth Westheimer, William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson to name a few). This was not a choice entered into lightly - this is her actual career goal. She researched the project, interviewed a prominent sexologist, Dr. Justin Lehmiller. Her Prezi display contained NO graphic images and included facts (like Mississippi having a high rate of teen pregnancy). As part of her presentation, she gave the students in the class a condom demonstration. She was thinking only in terms of the assignment: providing a demonstration of what a sexologist would do. It was an extra part of the assignment to have a prop, job demonstration, or guest speaker. That was why she did the demo (decided on the night before the presentation). Our niece, proud of her presentation, posted a video of it (shot at her request by another student) to her Facebook page. And frankly, we were proud of her for being so brave and proud of her teacher for letting her pursue her passion rather than censoring it. As of today - 11/17/2015, her teacher, Mrs. Sherre Ferguson, was put on leave from the school...(told to gather her things and go home - the state of her continued employment is ambiguous as far as we know and we have heard conflicting reports of whether this leave is paid or not) despite the fact that Mrs. Ferguson was not aware of the exact nature of the demonstration beforehand (it was only finalized at 10pm the night before), and she did not allow students to keep the condoms (or cucumbers) from the demonstration. We are unsure of what policy here was violated exactly. We are not sure where Ms. Ferguson's actions crossed the line. We have discovered that Mississippi has a law forbidding teachers from presenting sex ed materials in class. We are not aware of any such law forbidding students from doing so. Further we have learned there is a ban in Mississippi on educators conducting condom demonstrations within the context of an abstinence-plus sex education program, but as this was a series of career day presentations we are unclear as to whether this policy would apply to a student's job demonstration. If just doing a job talk on sexology was sex education then apparently, according to the same policy, our niece would have had to give it twice - once to male students and once to female. However we are not lawyers and thus can only say we are unclear which policy Ms. Ferguson is in violation of.
Mrs. Ferguson, a National Board-certified honors teacher who challenges her students to think outside the box, should not have her job at risk over a student presentation. She fairly allowed a student to present on and pursue a genuine job interest. We want to help Mrs. Ferguson - a single mother and 19-year veteran teacher- to retain her employment. We never foresaw that our niece presenting on sexology could possibly cost a teacher her job! The possibility is heart-wrenching.