Schools’ proposed sex ed add-ons concern parents
SNOHOMISH — The Snohomish School District is planning to adopt supplementary new sexual health education resources for 5th through 12th graders that some parents consider to be in part misguided and inappropriate.
Some parents criticized references to gender identity, religion and sexual activity in the resources after they were unveiled in March. Parents also worried about a possible liberal bias in the resources and whether the contents might actually encourage youth to submit to sexual requests from peers.
The district was in search of new options to supplement its current curriculum, much of which dates from the 1990s.
While the current materials meet state standards, medical knowledge and social norms have shifted: School district leaders say they need to adopt new resources to provide the best available education to students.
The district began the resource adoption process in the fall. It set a target implementation date of May 2018, which officials say is subject to change.
The school board could decide whether to adopt the resources as early as its April 25 board meeting, but as of press time no specific date was set as the leadership team paused to process feedback from a community forum.
About three dozen people attended a district presentation on March 21 to learn more about the proposed resources. The district notified families in advance that
the materials were available for review at the district office through the month of March.
If adopted, teachers could use the resources to help improve their teaching on topics including sexual anatomy, STDs, abstinence and other birth control methods, sexual orientation, gender identity and communication in relationships.
Presenter Miriam Mickelson, the district’s Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Services, clarified that the resources were not a mandatory curriculum, but materials the district could use to help create lessons.
Parents complimented some of the materials, such as a lesson on online safety, and shared several concerns about others.
At the March 21 meeting, a woman raised a concern about a 7th grade lesson. The “Let’s Talk about Sex” section focused on describing and demonstrating effective communication about sex and sexuality. The lesson stated “compromise is a part of every relationship. That means you give in sometimes.” The lesson does conclude by stating that students should never engage in sexual activity if they were not comfortable.
Another parent questioned the medical accuracy or necessity of teaching about gender identity. Proposed materials for the 7th grade level and up familiarizes students with the concept gender identity using terms such as “cisgender” — people who identify with the sex they were born with — and “transgender.”
State law requires material to be medically accurate, but also appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or disability status. The premise is that educating youth about respecting diversity helps prevent negative outcomes, such as bullying and suicide.
One parent said that her child was transgender and she hoped instruction on gender identity would help the child’s peers, who she said were constantly asking her child about gender.
Another parent objected to a lesson about gender roles that invited teachers to ask students if any of them were Catholics. In a 7th grade lesson, “Blue is for Boys, Pink is for Girls, or Are They?” the lesson spoke to gender roles by having the teacher ask students whether women were allowed to be Catholic priests.
“Parents should get to opt in, not opt out on an experimental program,” one attendee said. If a signature was required for something as minor as a field trip, he believed something as significant as the new sexual health curriculum should require at least as much parental consent.
State law mandates that even to opt out, parents must review the sexual health materials and opt out in writing. The district allows parents to opt out through its website at www.sno.wednet.edu through a link on the Health Education page.
Mickelson said the resource adoption process for the Sexual Health materials has followed the typical process and timeline for adoption of new materials for any
That included assembling a committee more than six months ago, reviewing and prioritizing standards, “casting a wide net” to select the best materials, offering community forums and piloting the proposed resources.
In this case, the materials were sources from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) already-vetted resource bank.
One parent questioned whether the materials, which OSPI sourced in part from documents the FLASH lesson plan developed by Public Health-Seattle and King County, were too liberal for Snohomish.
Mickelson said the district would be able to select from among the resources and that the purpose of adding resources was to enable students to make “wise and healthy decisions.”
The proposed materials require further consideration before adoption, including a process review by a Superintendent’s Cabinet team of district leaders and review and discussion by the school board.
The school board will next meet Wednesdays, April 11 at 6 p.m. and April 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the district board room at 1601 Ave. D.
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