Parents of students at a small Minneapolis private school are demanding the director resign after she led a field trip to a shop that sells sex toys and adult novelties.
“We are not happy with what happened,” said Steve Strawmatt, who has already removed his 10-year-old son from the school.
Strawmatt issued a statement on behalf of about nine sets of parents of kids at Gaia Democratic School who are outraged that director Starri Hedges took about a dozen middle- and high-school-age students to the Smitten Kitten late last week as part of a sex education course.
Meanwhile, parent Lynn Floyd filed a complaint with Minneapolis police accusing Hedges of exposing children to pornographic material. The police report recommends further investigation.
“I want her done and out, and that school closed,” Floyd said Thursday. “I want her away from children,” he continued. “It’s borderline predation.”
Hedges did not return calls seeking comment, but the school posted a statement on its website defending its leader.
“Gaia Democratic School’s board of directors stands behind the premise of the field trip,” the statement said. “We view it as a legitimate learning experience that relates directly to topics covered during our yearlong Sexual Health class.”
Strawmatt and other parents say they are angered that Hedges took students to the shop without notification or approval and then defended the field trip in public. The statement says her actions and defense of the field trip “demonstrate extremely poor judgment and dereliction of responsibility.”
Floyd said all the Gaia parents should pull their children out of the school. “Every sane individual I’ve spoken to about this, they’re struggling to wrap their minds around it,” he said.
Gaia rents space in a Unitarian church on Mount Curve Avenue. The school has between 25 and 45 K-12 students and an annual budget of about $105,000, according to IRS records. The school has a motto promising academic freedom, youth empowerment and democratic education.
School board members said in their statement that the ongoing discussions in the sex education class prepared students for their visit to the Smitten Kitten. School officials said students were not required to attend the field trip.
Along with selling sex toys, condoms, leather products and DVDs, the store offers workshops similar to one the students took part in. During the field trip, some students purchased condoms, parents said.
Strawmatt’s son did not attend the field trip, but he said the fact they made the trip — and without parental notification — shows poor judgment.
Parents from nine families met Thursday night, intensifying their criticism after the statement by the board defending Hedges. It was the second such meeting in less than a week.
“We do not believe the Gaia Democratic School can continue, nor should continue, under Ms. Hedges’ leadership and strongly urge them to find a replacement,” a statement read.
Because Gaia is a private school, the Minnesota Department of Education has no authority in the matter.
After the field trip, Smitten Kitten was cited by Minneapolis city inspectors. The inspectors found that the store had sexually explicit materials within view of minors and did not isolate the materials in a separate section of the shop.
The store was ordered to fix the problems, but no fines or other penalties were issued.
Smitten Kitten’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.”
Beatrice Dupuy • 612-673-1707