Classes were addressed in person Wednesday and letters were sent home Thursday from Madison Consolidated High School Principal Michael Gasaway as school officials worked to respond to parent and student concerns and clarify facts surrounding videos about abortion that were shown in biology classes Friday, May 3.

“I apologize for this, and at the end of the day, it is my responsibility to make sure this school is being conducted in the right manner. For that I take full responsibilitty,” Gasaway said in the letter from him that went to parents.

Gasaway said Thursday that he had gone to all six class periods that had viewed two videos to ensure the students knew they had doors open to them to share concerns about the videos’ content.

Gasaway said the video had not been approved by administrators and that school personnel would be working together to ensure lesson plans are well thought through and presented without bias.

Biology teacher Chris Barlow showed the two videos. One was produced by Planned Parenthood and was reported to be about two minutes. The other lasted about 30 minutes and showed the abortion procedure through an ultrasound.

Parents said their children told them Barlow said he was showing the videos to enable a class discussion on the abortion topic as it relates to the Roe v. Wade decision at the Supreme Court, which was detailed in their textbooks.

One parent who talked with the Courier said the discussion was to take place the next class period. The discussion never took place because of the reaction of some by students and parents, that parent told the Courier.

However, Barlow was not in the classroom Monday and Tuesday. Gasaway said in his letter to parents that Barlow was not there those two days and returned Wednesday.

Gasaway said Barlow will finish out the remainder of the 2018-19 school year in the Science Department.

“Any and all decisions with Mr. Barlow, pertaining to his employment and/or discipline, has been handled internally and communicated with our proper chain of command, which is with Dr. (Jeff) Studebaker (the Madison schools superintendent).

“This is a teachable moment for a young teacher,” Gasaway said.

He also told parents in his letter that they are welcome to reach out to discuss concerns but that he is not able to “discuss with you about Mr. Barlow’s personnel record.”

Parents who discussed the situation with the Courier did not want their names used.

One parent said students said they were upset about the video being shown in class and also said students were asked after they saw the videos to participate in a show-of-hands vote on whether they supported or did not support abortion.

The parent who said no discussion took place provided a differing account from many of those on Facebook conversations and others those who spoke with the Courier earlier this week.

Her child told her, she said, that Barlow began the class with a disclaimer — the videos he was going to show would be “graphic.” He said he had tried to find videos to provide “accurate information about how the procedure occurs.”

The parent said her child said Barlow was open and provided the class with many details before showing the videos and gave students the option not to watch. They could have left before the video began or during it if they grew uncomfortable, the parent said. Her child reported to her that some students in her class did leave before the video started and that others left during. Her child stayed through the whole video, but turned away from the screen at times.

She said her child’s class was not asked to vote if they were on one side of the pro-choice/pro-life debate or the other.

Gasaway said Barlow posed the hypothetical question to students, but was not asking them to vote or make their personal views public. Gasaway said Barlow believes students misunderstood his intent and perceived the fact he was taking notes of the show of hands they may have been on one side of the argument or the other. Gasaway said he was not.

Gasaway said he talked with four parents about the incident. He said two that called were not upset that the video had been shown.

He said seven students had spoken with him about it, out of more than 100 students who saw the content through the different sections of Biology I and II classes that met that day.

Five of the seven students, said Gasaway, were upset by the content of the second nearly half-hour long video. Many of the students that came to him started the conversation by saying how much they like Barlow as a teacher.

The Planned Parenthood video was described by several parents who were concerned about the situation as two minutes in length. A parent said students described that video as informative and cartoonish visually.

The second video, those parents said, was described by their children as a “late-term abortion through an ultrasound.” Some used the word “graphic” to describe the video. The 30-minute-long video, is called The Silent Scream. ChoicesNew, which published the video to YouTube in April 2012, described it as

“a 1984 anti-abortion documentary video directed and narrated by Bernard Nathanson, an obstetrician, NARAL Pro-Choice America founder, and abortion provider turned pro-life activist, and produced in partnership with the National Right to Life Committee.[1] The film depicts the abortion process via ultrasound and shows an abortion taking place in the uterus. During the abortion process, the fetus is described as appearing to make outcries of pain and discomfort. The video has been a popular tool used by the pro-life campaign in arguing against abortion,[2] although it has been criticized as misleading by members of the medical community.[3].”

Gasaway said teachers are autonomous in designing their lesson plans — that they can tailor them to best fit their teaching style and the students’ learning styles. But there are situations where they can make mistakes in trying to find the best way to present content to students.

“Teachers are adults and adults can make mistakes, too,” said Gasaway. “We’re going to learn from this and move on.”

To further address any worries of participation grades for last Friday, Gasaway said he used his authority as the building’s top administrator to make the day’s grades null and void.

Barlow joined the MCS faculty last December. He was issued an emergency teaching permit on Nov. 19, 2018. That permit will expire on June 30, 2019, according to the Indiana Department of Education’s Indiana Educator License Lookup.

Gasaway said the school would be taking all comments and explanations in Barlow’s place so that “he can focus on moving on, teaching and finish the last 15 days of the school year strong.”