A Friends Central sex education coordinator and high school English teacher is getting heat for some controversial statements.
Al Vernacchio, who has taught at the school for 20 years, has posted online videos about his sex education philosophy.
“Every single one of these kids is a sexual being and has been since birth,” Vernacchio said in one video. “And at every stage, we can offer them age-appropriate transformative sex ed.”
He also said, “We all need to be sexuality educators for the kids in our lives. If we don’t step up, others will. And many of those others don’t see wholeness and freedom the way we do.”
According to a 2011 New Times Magazine cover article, Vernacchio teaches his sex ed class using visual aids such as a medical research video of a woman ejaculating and photos of genitalia.
“It’s a process of desensitizing them to what real genitals look like so they’ll be less freaked out by their own and one day their partner’s,” he says in that article. “They have no point of reference for what a healthy vulva looks like, even their own.”
“I don’t necessarily see the decision to become sexually active when you’re 17 as an unhealthy one,” he told the Times.
Vernacchio declined to comment for the Delaware Valley Journal, referring questions to Friends Central.
The private Quaker school supported Vernacchio and sent the Delaware Valley Journal a statement: “Al Vernacchio is a nationally renowned and highly respected educator. It is disappointing that his work and our school are being miscast so thoroughly. Friends’ Central is committed to cultivating the intellectual, ethical, and spiritual promise of our students in a world that needs that more than ever.”
The school also denies teaching sex ed to students younger than fourth grade. But Vernacchio’s own words belie that.
“I’m responsible for the sexuality education of all of our students from our youngest students who are three years old in nursery school up through our 12th graders who are turning 18 and getting ready to leave high school,” he says at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. “That’s a huge range, but every single one of those kids is a sexual being,” he said.
Vernacchio’s Sexuality and Society class is an optional class limited to 11th and 12th graders. Parents must sign off on it.
He also secured a $250,000 Ford Foundation grant to teach kids about consent, according to a laudatory article in The Inquirer.
Friends Central, founded in 1845, is in Wynnewood on the Main Line. Tuition starts at a hefty $25,000 for nursery school and rises to more than $40,000 for high school.