ON THE DAY THE SWALLOWS returned to San Juan Capistrano a year ago, some parents in East Stroudsburg, Penn., were outraged to learn that their sixth-grade daughters had had genital exams performed on them at school allegedly without the parents' knowledge and over the protests of the girls themselves.
When the story was picked up nationally, parents and education activists throughout the country reacted with shock and anger. Many saw it as the latest "edu-horror" proving that the state schools have almost completely usurped parents' authority.
On March 19, 1997, the first anniversary of the incident, Separation Alliance Director Marshall Fritz plans to be in East Stroudsburg as part of a fact-finding mission to determine the truth and significance of the story.
As reported in The Washington Times on April 27, 1996, 59 girls at J.T. Lambert Intermediate School were taken to the school nurse's office, told to take off their clothes, and examined one-by-one by a female pediatrician. One parent was quoted as saying, "The girls were scared. They were crying and trying to run out of the door, but one of the nurses was blocking the door so they couldn't leave." This same parent said her daughter asked a nurse if she could call her mother first, but the nurse wouldn't let her.
Both the police and the school district investigated and concluded that the exams, which were conducted to look for genital warts, involved "no improprieties." A year later the controversy still has not died down, and at least one lawsuit stemming from the incident is pending against the school system.
Fritz was headed to East Stroudsburg with plans to meet with parents and school representatives there. "I want to find out if this is truly an education monstrosity, or do the educators and doctors have any sort of an arguable case," he said.
It may seem odd to find a leading Separationist bending over backward to give government school officials the benefit of doubt. The alleged behavior of school personnel in this incident would only add fuel to the case for removing education from the hands of the state. As one Alliance supporter wrote, "Let's get it straight, these girls were lined up like cattle and systematically sexually violated."
Fritz, though, sees getting at the truth in such cases as crucial to the Separation movement. "When I've researched some reported education horrors, they've often turned out to be one-sided, exaggerated, undocumented, and from sources that are not very credible, and even clearly erroneous. And yet people reprint this stuff anyway," he said.
"Sloppiness sets back the cause. When you make an invalid attack, it solidifies the education mainstream. They can point out that we're wrong on th e details, therefore we must be wrong on the big picture."
Fritz recalled once when a major conservative publication described a teacher telling a student she couldn't wear a watch saying "Jesus loves me." After personally investigating, he determined that many of the teachers at the school were Christians and wore Christian jewelry themselves, and that the girl was asked not to wear the watch simply because she was playing with it too much in class and distracting others.
"My experience as a parent and as a child leads me to say that children are sometimes quite self-serving and inaccurate recorders of a situation. Being a school principal confirmed it," Fritz said.
He did add that, based on conversations so far, he was "80 percent confident" that the parents are correct in the East Stroudsburg case. "I want to clear up that remaining 20 percent doubt before adding this particular 'edu-horror' to the catalog of arguments for Separation."