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Tennessee: Elementary School Flap over Condom Awareness Billboard

South Park Elementary School in Memphis, TN became the locus of protest because of its proximity to a billboard promoting condom availability. Adding to the controversy, the pro-condom message was sponsored by a local Planned Parenthood affiliate in a region long known for its hostility to legal abortion and family planning services.

“Getting It On Is Free,” according to the billboard, which uses the tagline and a large photo of a new, unrolled condom to encourage sexually active people to use protection. To wit: putting on a condom costs nothing, thanks to the availability of free condoms at Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region. South Park is one of twelve billboard sites around Memphis where the message is on display. The billboard in South Park is 35 feet from the school building.

Karen Wallace, an employee of a nearby church, expressed her opposition: "They [Planned Parenthood] chose a neighborhood that they feel is inner city, yes, there are problems in this neighborhood but they downgraded the neighborhood with their billboard."[1]

Ashley Coffield, President and Chief Executive Officer for Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region, defended the billboard: “We want to normalize condoms. Take the stigma away out of using them. Make it cool and responsible, [and] part of a loving and trustful relationship.”[2] Coffield, herself a deacon at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Midtown Memphis, did not address accusations that the billboard was too close to South Park Elementary.

Reader comments on the news website WREG.com, a Memphis CBS news affiliate, illustrated some of the arguments surrounding Planned Parenthood’s educational message and its effect on children.

A person who identified as “Marvin Gaye” posted:

"The issue is that as a parent, I, the parent controls what my child is exposed to, not Planned Parenthood. Simply because PP does not like the results they are seeing in society does not give them the right to expose my child to something I will be teaching them about when the time is appropriate. As for the argument, “they see it online or on TV” that is also something I control, as any responsible parent does. PP is simply normalizing adult behaviors to children."[3]

Someone who identified as “Jake Pelloth” defended the condom campaign:

"It is unbelievable how people get away with child abuse of this nature. To say that it’s wrong to teach children about contraception or even going a step further to say that condoms will not prevent stds and that only a higher deity can protect you from this is nothing less than child abuse of the cruelest kind. I agree that abstinence works, and very well. But so do condoms! There should be these billboards everywhere as the parents and clergy of the Memphis area won’t properly educate all the children. The billboards give a fighting chance."[4]

Neither the school district officials nor South Park Elementary School administrators were on record with an opinion about the billboard’s proximity. South Park’s mission and vision statement says:

"South Park strives to produce and inspire independent thinkers in a diverse community which promotes academic excellence.  Students will be provided opportunities to think critically, communicate effectively, solve problems, and become life-long learners.  Students will be equipped emotionally, socially, and academically to be college and career ready."[5]

While the billboard has provided a ‘teachable moment’ for the entire school community, it remains unclear whether its opponents will succeed in having it removed.
 


[1] Lauren Squires, “'Getting it on is free' billboard upsets school kids' parents,” WMCTV.com, January 31, 2014, accessed February 6, 2014 at http://www.wmctv.com/story/24602375/parents-concerned-with-location-of-racy-billboard.

[2] “Outrage sparks over Planned Parenthood’s “Getting it on” condom billboard near school and church,” Saynsumthn’s Blog, January 31, 2014, accessed February 6, 2014 at http://saynsumthn.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/outrage-sparks-over-planned-parenthoods-getting-it-on-condom-billboard-near-school-and-church/.

[3] Melissa Moon, “Neighbors Say Planned Parenthood’s Billboard Goes Too Far,” WREG.com, January 30, 2014, accessed February 6, 2014 at

[4] Ibid.

[5] South Park Elementary School, “Mission/Vision,” accessed February 7, 2014 at http://www.mcsk12.net/schools/southpark.es/site/mission.shtml.

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