- The New York Post published critical articles about Justine Ang Fonte – a sex-ed teacher at a New York private school.
- One of the articles said parents were “horrified” by her lesson teaching 6-year-olds about “touching themselves.”
- Fonte, who has since resigned from her post, told Insider that she had received death threats.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Justine Ang Fonte was planning a lesson for her first-grade students when she received a call from a reporter at the New York Post asking her to defend herself.
The newspaper, the reporter told her, intended to publish an article about two controversial classes on porn literacy and consent she’d taught at a prestigious Manhattan school earlier that month.
She was caught “off-guard,” she told Insider. The classes had seemingly gone off without a hitch, Fonte said. Additionally, she had been teaching sex education for 11 years and had never before been at the heart of a controversy.
Fonte, anticipating the worst, made all of her social media profiles private and readied herself for the article’s release. “I just braced myself for what was to come,” she said.
On May 22, the Post published the article, headlined “Columbia Prep students and parents reel after class on ‘porn literacy.'”
Fonte was under fire for teaching classes at the $47,000-a-year Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, formerly attended by Barron Trump, which included a list of PornHub’s most searched terms of 2019 and referred to adult-entertainment site OnlyFans.
The article included anonymous comments from a parent and student who said they were “shocked and mortified” by the content of the sex-ed teacher’s lessons.
She told Insider the classes were seemingly well-received by her 120 students.
“When I was delivering it, there was high engagement by the students,” Fonte added. “The students know a lot of their peers are exposed to pornography without being literate about its implications and harms.”
She immediately received abuse online, prompting several of her students to write a letter supporting her. “This was a lot more consistent to the tenor that I was feeling while giving the presentations,” Fonte explained. “The article had really only showcased what seemed like one parent and one child’s opinion.”
‘It was a video created for preschoolers’
Fonte was contacted by the New York Post for comment once again, a week after the initial uproar, regarding another class she had taught at Dalton School, a different New York private school. As per its policy, where Fonte worked as the director of health and wellness for seven years, she did not respond.
The second article was published on May 29. “Dalton parents enraged over ‘masturbation’ videos for first-graders,” it was headlined. The Post alleged that Fonte had shown a video to six-year-olds about little kids “touching themselves” for pleasure. Parents were “furious” and “horrified,” according to the report.
Fonte told Insider she did show the video, but that “masturbation” was never mentioned and that the video was appropriate for first graders. “It was a video created for preschoolers,” she added.
Watch the video:
“It mentions that a child feels good when he touches his penis and the other child mentioned that it feels good when she touches her vulva,” Fonte continued. “The response to those two statements is the adult in the video saying, “did you notice, you never see adults touching their private parts in public?'”
The sex-ed teacher insists that the video is “lifesaving” and necessary. “It equips the kids and empowers our young people with the education that they need to fight sexual violence and to be able to understand how their body works.”
The criticism, voiced in the article by a “vocal minority” of parents who chose to remain anonymous, was ill-placed, Fonte said. She puts it down, in part, to them not having received a “comprehensive sexuality education” themselves.
But it wasn’t only certain parents who spoke out against Fonte; right-wing firebrands also attacked her. Conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro shared a video to his 3.3 million YouTube followers, calling Fonte a “moron” and referring to the lesson as “bizarre perversity.”
Comments under Shapiro’s video were equally critical, with some people even calling for the teacher’s arrest.
The online abuse was ‘traumatizing’
“I was attacked on every social media platform,” Fonte told Insider.
“I was questioned around my credentials. I was questioned about whether or not I am safe to be around children,” she explained. “And yet I’m doing the work that actually equips and empowers our children to protect themselves from a world of misogyny, of patriarchy, and of power that does not protect them.”
Fonte said that she received death threats and a message saying that her mother should have aborted her.
The teacher believes that there were racial undertones to the abuse she received. “It was not lost on me that all of this happened during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the United States,” she said. “As a very proud Filipina, it was an extra layer of reflection to see that my work was being so villainized.”
The villainization and “canceling” took a huge emotional toll on her, Fonte added. “It was a really dehumanizing experience and one that I would never wish on to anyone,” she said. “Being sneered at for something that I know is ethical, moral, socially just, and is integral to creating a safer world for our children was traumatizing.”
Recent events ‘expedited’ Fonte’s departure from Dalton
In mid-June, the head of Dalton School, Jim Best, announced that Fonte would not be returning to teach the following year.
“Throughout her tenure at Dalton, Justine Ang Fonte has helped to develop an exemplary K-12 Health and Wellness program. Dalton – our faculty, staff, administration, and trustees – continue to stand firmly behind this program and those who teach it,” Best wrote, according to the Post.
“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 principal said.
The supportive message made clear that it was Fonte’s decision to leave. She confirmed this to Insider and said that her initial plan to leave Dalton in 2022 had been “expedited” by recent events.
“The tension was one that was cumulatively rising, not just this year, and my work in anti-racism and in progressive education, including comprehensive sexual education, is a lot of work,” Fonte said. “We are up against communities in our schools that aren’t in favor of that, and I was starting to feel less fulfilled doing this.”
Fonte said that she intends to continue teaching sexual education to children in an intersectional way and added that she has no plans to back down. “I will not be silenced. It is all of this work that is important and needs to be done,” she said.