Justine Ang Fonte, the sex-ed teacher who taught first-graders at Dalton School about masturbation, resigned. The news broke this weekend after her controversial curriculum went viral at the end of May.
The Dalton School teacher will not return next fall, leaving behind her $55,000-per-year salary and the sex-ed curriculum that sparked serious backlash for her and the school. In an email from Jim Best, the head of school, Justine Ang Fonte issued her resignation, but the Dalton School still stood “firmly behind the program and those who teach it.”
According to the email, the teacher had not been ousted by the school’s administration, who stood by Fonte as her teaching methods were criticized by parents. The program, which aimed to teach children about consent and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate public activities, was marred for its openness about certain topics to young children.
Despite the outrage from parents, Jim Best assured in his email that “throughout her tenure at Dalton, Justine Ang Fonte has helped to develop an exemplary K-12 Health and Wellness program.” He continued saying, “’Dalton — our faculty, staff, administration, and trustees — continue to stand firmly behind this program and those who teach it.”
Best’s email, which was sent to The New York Post, outlined the reason for Fonte’s resignation. “At faculty and staff meetings this week, Justine announced her decision to leave Dalton to focus on her work as an independent Health Educator. She has been working toward this goal for over a year. We support Justine’s aspirations and look forward to honoring her accomplishments as the academic year comes to a close.”
The resignation had no mention of the current controversy marring Justine Ang Fonte and the Dalton School. According to Best’s email, Fonte’s decision was solely based on future aspiration, as opposed to past mistakes. Some parents had strong opinions about the email and Fonte’s resignation from the sex-ed program.
“This inability to admit a mistake or acknowledge misstep is strange,” an angry parent said, reacting to the email. For many parents with students in the Dalton School, Fonte’s resignation is likely welcomed. When word got out about the content of Fonte’s curriculum, parents were ready to drop the school.
The content in question was a video shown to first graders that parents believed covered topics inappropriate for young children. The animated video portrays 6-year-old children in cartoon form expressing their desire to touch themselves for pleasure, all while a teacher explains that it’s all-natural.
At one point in the video, a boy in the cartoon speaks up, saying, “Hey, how come sometimes my penis gets big sometimes and points in the air?” The teacher then explains that it is called an “erection.”
“Sometimes I touch my penis because it feels good,” the boy continues. A little girl then adds that “when I’m in my bath or when Mom puts me to bed, I like to touch my vulva too.”
The teacher then explains that certain pleasure sensors in the “private parts” make it feel good when you touch them. The teacher then points out that “older kids and grownups” never touch themselves in public. She says, “it’s OK to touch yourself and see how different body parts feel, but it’s best to only do it in private.”
The Dalton School insisted that parents had misinterpreted Fonte’s sex ed lesson and that her liberal “health and wellness” curriculum was fully backed by the school. Fonte has since defended her lesson, explaining that it is not a class on masturbation, but is instead a lesson that teaches kids not to touch themselves in public.
Parents were not outraged by what seemed like a masturbation lesson. They were also infuriated that another part of the video tells children that all adults must gain their consent before they can hug them. “I’m paying $50,000 to these a-holes to tell my kid not to let her grandfather hug her when he sees her?” one upset parent pointed out.
Other parents were more upset at the handling of the curriculum, rather than the content itself. An angered parent said: “I’m not against all sex education, but it’s not cool to keep parents in the dark about it.”
The school reportedly did not ask for parents’ consent before issuing the content to the children, which made parents “furious.” One mother added that “we were horrified to learn this was shown to our first-grade 6- and 7-year-old kids without our knowledge or consent. But it’s so hard to fight back because you’ll get canceled and your child will suffer.”
Though parents disagree, Justine Ang Fonte’s sex-ed program is funded by a $450,000 grant from Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Foundation. The Dalton School has kept Ackman’s ex-wife, Karen, on the board of trustees, which manages the funding for the program. The school has backed Fonte’s program from the get-go and has pointed out that it isn’t the only school incorporating this kind of sex ed.