- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A sex education teacher has drawn the ire of parents after taking middle- and high-school students on a field trip to an adult novelty store in Minneapolis.

Gaia Democratic School director Starri Hedges took about a dozen students to the Smitten Kitten last week. Hedges told the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1I8oMn7 ) that she wanted to provide a safe environment for students to learn about human sexual behavior.

Besides offering adult books, videos, toys and other products, the store also has educational workshops, which the students attended.

“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 said. Some of her students bought condoms, she said.

The small K-12 school has a motto that promises academic freedom, youth empowerment and democratic education. Parents say it has about 25 students. Tax records show the school, housed in a Unitarian church, has an annual budget of about $100,000.

Parent Lynn Floyd’s 11- and 13-year-old daughters were on the field trip. Floyd says the trip was “a major breach of trust” and has withdrawn his children from the school. 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 said.

Hedges said that she “unfortunately didn’t communicate well enough with parents ahead of time” about the trip. Pornographic items were off limits to the children, Hedges said, but sex toys and other products were visible.

Smitten Kitten owner Jennifer Pritchett said the store is 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,” she said.

Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Josh Collins said the state has no authority over the school because it is private. “I don’t think anybody would think that going to the Smitten Kitten is a great idea,” he said.

It is not clear whether the field trip broke any laws. A city ordinance said those younger than 18 should not be exposed to “sexually provocative written, photographic, printed, sound, or published materials deemed harmful to minors.”

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said inspectors visited the store Tuesday and plan to issue a violation notice for failing to comply with the city ordinance and for not complying with a zoning ordinance. She said the store can reconfigure its space or cover the items to comply. Pritchett, the store owner, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Hedges said she probably would not take another class to the store.

“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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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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