Mandatory girls-only assembly held at Payson High School stirring up controversy

Posted at 5:52 PM, Oct 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-11 22:43:47-04

In the "heart of Arizona" and the home of the Longhorns, school district officials are explaining themselves after a high school assembly left some students and parents offended.

The focus of the assembly was "building positive relationships," according to Dr. Gregory Wyman, the Superintendent of the Payson Unified School district.

In a 2-page press release, district officials said the decision to hold the assemblies "was the result of the overwhelmingly positive response by students two years ago for the same assembly."

District officials explained that they worked with the school's site council, parents, staff, the Gila County Health Department, and other local entities to secure funding for the assembly.

District officials said they had invited parents to attend a presentation on teens building positive relationships, and were informed the students would be participating in similar assemblies over the next two days. Parents were also informed that they could excuse their kids from the assembly.

What had many parents and students offended and outraged were comments made at a girls only assembly held on the second day.

Nationally acclaimed speaker Brad Henning hosted the assemblies. According to his website, he has traveled nationwide and spoken to 2 million students throughout the country. Many of the topics covered relationships, dating, and questions kids might be embarrassed to ask their parents.

Videos posted on his website addressed topics like how to tell if a boy likes you, why men are afraid of commitment, why men don't like to talk, and turn offs for men and women.

Parents have contacted ABC15 saying they were concerned about some topics brought up during the assembly, and the fact that the assemblies were segregated between boys and girls, with only the girls assembly being mandatory.

In the mandatory assembly for girls, students say they were advised not to dress provocatively, as that could unleash a man's God-given sexual urges.

Some students thought the assembly was entertaining. 

"He was really funny," Laytna Sinyella said. "It was an assembly that wasn't meant to be serious, I thought it was funny."

Others did not see the humor in it.

"I think it's rude, they can control it, if girls can control it they can control it," said April Light, a  former student at Payson High School.  She thought the message seemed "sexist."

Light added that she was a naturally curvy woman, and even wearing a tank top could be perceived as "provocative" by some.

"It's my body, you want me to cover up and burn in the heat while guys can walk around with tank tops?" she asked. 

Parent Scott Frost said while he understood the underlying meaning behind the message, the delivery could have been more sensitive.

"Girls these days do dress a little too under-dressed for their age but I also think boys do have the control to control their urges," he said. 

Parents also raised concerns about the boy's assembly not being mandatory. Only 25 male students showed up for that one. One student said all they discussed was how to ask a girl out, and how to get a second date.   

The school district superintendent said the message may have been misunderstood, although he admitted he had not attended the assemblies. Dr. Wyman declined ABC15's request for an interview, but did issue a 2-page press release stating:

"The message of the presentation was building positive relationships and the overall theme was the definition  of true love is choosing the good for the other person in the relationship. The presentation was not one-sided but aimed at members of both sexes. The message of the presentation was never intended to be about sexual violence, date rape, or dating violence. "

He went on to say:

"The District regrets the implication of the message as a result of the decision to separate the assemblies and takes responsibility for not providing more specific information on the format of the Wednesday assemblies. The message of building healthy positive relationships when dating is an important message for our students to hear and that was the intent and focus of the presentations. In public education there are many topics that are presented that some may feel are not appropriate for their child.  Parents and the students always have the option to request an optional assignment in lieu of listening to a topic they feel is not appropriate."

ABC15 has reached out the Washington-based speaker Brad Henning for a comment, but has not heard back yet.