Mom: Son Confused Spanking, Sex Abuse After School Counseling
By Elaine D. Briseno , Albuquerque Journal,
March 22, 2002

A Rio Rancho mother claims the curriculum Puesta Del Sol Elementary used when teaching her son about abuse caused him to believe he was sexually abused when spanked at home.

Comments he made to state social workers then led to his removal from home for two weeks. In addition, even though no abuse was found, the family lost their chance to adopt three sisters for whom they had become foster parents, according to Tina Disbrow.

Disbrow said her son believed a spanking he received from his father early this year was sexual abuse, based on information taught in first and second grade. She said the information was taught without her consent.

"He was spanked three times on the butt, and he believed that was abuse," she said. "The spanking was done on an area covered by the bathing suit and it made him uncomfortable. So by that definition our son believed he was being abused."

The definition of sexual abuse, according to the school's counseling curriculum, is any touching on an area of the body that is covered by a bathing suit that makes a child uncomfortable.

The definition is similar to that used by the state Children, Youth and Families Department, a spokeswoman said.

Rio Rancho Superintendent Sue Cleveland said the state Department of Education suggests that parents be notified when these topics are taught.

Apparently no notification was given last year at Puesta el Sol. And Cleveland said the district's lawyers advise against notifying parents.

"This is really an ethical dilemma for us," Cleveland said. "We are reviewing our procedure in general."

At the time of the spanking incident, Disbrow and her husband also had four foster children living in their home, three of whom were sisters the couple was trying to adopt.

During a counseling session required by CYFD as part of the adoption process, the boy, who is a third-grader at Puesta, said he was sexually abused. Disbrow and her husband were not in the room when their son made his statement.

CYFD requires every family member to attend a counseling session/interview so it can be sure that every family member agrees to an adoption. Disbrow said that, if her children had not agreed to the adoption, they would have gone through counseling to help them adjust. She said that, if the child does not adjust, the adoption could be denied.

Disbrow said that, if she had known what her son was learning at school, she could have continued the discussion at home. But, she said, the school did not notify her.

As a result of her son's statement, CYFD removed her son from the home Feb. 5 while an investigation was conducted. The foster children were removed a week later.

She said the investigation showed that there had been no abuse and that her son was returned to the home on Feb. 19.

However, CYFD did not return the foster children, and the sisters were put up for adoption again.

Disbrow said CYFD told her the reason her son said he was abused was to sabotage the adoption of the three girls, and she was told that's why CYFD would not let her family adopt the three sisters. However, Disbrow said she believes that her son was confused and did not understand the ramifications of his comments.

Romaine Serna, spokeswoman for CYFD, said she could not comment on the case because of privacy issues.

The school's curriculum uses comic books to teach about bad touches and secrets and good touches and secrets.

Kristine Meurer of the Department of Education said the state does not require school districts to teach a curriculum about sex and child abuse to elementary students.

However, she said, the state requires that teachers receive training for child and sexual abuse detection.

The Albuquerque and Bernalillo school districts do not have formal curriculum for these topics.

Instead, Bernalillo Superintendent Gary Dwyer said that counselors address the issue with kindergartners in an informal manner while discussing other issues.

Janalee Barnard, counseling coordinator for APS, said it is up to each school staff to decide whether to teach child and sexual abuse.

"The counselors may address (personal) boundaries, but we do not have specific materials," she said.

She said that parents may or may not be notified and that it depends on the sensitivity of the subject. She said that at least one counselor in the district reads comic books about sexual abuse and sends the material home so children can read the materials with their parents.

James King, associate superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools, said it is normal procedure for school counselors to send out a list of topics they will be teaching.

However, Helen Romero Johnsen, who has worked as a counselor at Puesta for the past 15 years, said she probably failed to send the letter last year.

"All those years I have sent the letter out, I have never had a parent contact me and say yea or nay," she said.

The school's principal, Bernadette Bachtel, said the school would re-examine its procedure about notifying parents.

Cleveland said parents are usually told they can review the material but are not told they have the option of removing their child from the class while the topic is taught.

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