BOSTON (AP) - The parents of a teenager whose former high school boyfriend was convicted of her murder urged state lawmakers Tuesday to require that dating violence prevention be included as part of health and sex education programs in public schools.
Police said Lauren Dunne Astley, 18, was stabbed and strangled, and her body dumped in a marshy area of her hometown of Wayland, an upscale Boston suburb, in July 2011. Nathaniel Fujita was convicted in March of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Fighting back tears, Mary Dunne told the Legislature's Education Committee about the pain of losing her only child to murder, and how her daughter's death might have been prevented.
"Lauren was a confident, smart and intelligent young woman," Dunne said. "If only she had learned and internalized that singular important lesson: Never go to see your ex alone after a breakup."
Malcolm Astley, Lauren's father, said Massachusetts lags behind a number of other states in teaching youth about maintaining healthy relationships and dealing with the inevitable pain of breakups.
Astley, a retired school principal, and Dunne, a pre-school teacher, have formed a foundation in their daughter's name to promote awareness among parents and school officials about violence in youth relationships. They do not believe that Fujita was violent to their daughter during the period they dated, but testimony at his trial indicated he grew angry and resentful after the breakup.
The education panel is considering several bills related to sex education in public schools, including three that would require the inclusion of dating violence prevention. Supporters of the effort noted the state has not significantly updated its overall health curriculum since 1999.
"We as a Commonwealth are doing virtually nothing," Emily Rothman, an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, told the panel. "We have no state funding for dating violence prevention in schools. That is deplorable."
Rothman cited a study showing that while 90 percent of parents had talked to their teenage sons about the dangers of drug abuse, less than half had counseled their sons about abusive relationships.
Dunne said the education system has become increasingly focused on academic performance and improving standardized test scores, losing sight of "what is most important in our children's makeup, empathy and caring."
The bills, heard Tuesday, do not spell out a curriculum, but backers cited several models they said had proven successful elsewhere and could be adapted to fit schools in Massachusetts. And no built-in funding for the initiative exists, backers say money could be added to the budget once the requirement is approved.
After the hearing, Astley said teaching healthy relationships should not wait until high school.
"We would begin this work with very young children, help them to be conversant about their needs, about asserting their rights, about coming to understand how to cope with the pain of friendships ending as the basis for when loving relationships come to an end," Astley said.
Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, a Republican from North Attleborough, said it was unfortunate that parents were failing to teach their own children "basic human values."
Poirier said she did not oppose including dating violence as part of a health curriculum, but was among those who testified in support of separate legislation that would require parents to be notified in advance and agree in writing before their children participate in any kind of sex education class.
"Parents are responsible for their children until they turn 18, and I think they should know with regard to these personal issues what children are being taught," Poirier said. "If we are teaching about sex, parents should know."