Battle Ground Public Schools is eyeing the adoption of a new high school sexual education curriculum, addressing community concerns over lessons on identity as well as pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease prevention.
The district hosted its first of two forums Sept. 10 designed to inform parents and community members of what the planned curriculum, slated for formal adoption by the district board of directors next month, will entail. A few dozen gathered in the Battle Ground High School media center to hear district officials go over the curriculum and ask questions about what to expect should the adoption be approved.
Attendees were presented with a three-inch binder filled with the entire curriculum the district was considering — for copyright reasons the material could not be duplicated to take home, according to BGPS. Co-Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Allison Tuchardt said at the first meeting of a committee formed to design the curriculum in December 2018 members came up with a mission statement, to “provide rigorous, inclusive, age-appropriate and medically-accurate instruction so that students are prepared to live healthy, productive and successful lives in a global society.”
BGPS Supervisor of Student Health Services & Nursing Catherine Shannon said sexual education would be about a three-week course that would be a part of health/PE, family health, health sciences careers and ROTC classes. The course began with setting a “classroom climate” — a process to set ground rules in the classroom to avoid embarrassment, Tuchardt explained.
Part of those ground rules would establish the difference between universal and non-universal values. Things like forcible sex or sex between children and adults fall into the category of being unversially known as wrong, while abortion, masturbation and the appropriate age to have sex were non-universal.
“There are some unique instructional issues around the teaching of high school sexual health,” fellow Co-Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment David Cresap said. The curriculum provides guidelines for teachers on how to handle questions that veered into non-universal values, something district officials stressed would be largely untouched unless a student specifically asked about them.
Following the introduction, students would go into a unit on anatomy, reproduction and pregnancy. Students would then learn about puberty before going into what’s been the most controversial topic, personal identity.
BGPS conducted a survey late last year garnering more than 2,100 responses related to the curriculum. It touched on an opt-out process that parents could undertake should they not wish their student to learn about a specific topic or the course as a whole. The process would be implemented should the curriculum be adopted.
Only a quarter of survey-takers responded to a question about which topics they would likely opt out of, according to information provided by the district. Of that quarter, self-identity was by far the most selected with close to 94 percent of those who responded picking it. Pregnancy and STD prevention had about 33 percent of the quarter selecting the category and healthy relationships had about 28.6 percent of respondents.
Cresap acknowledged that among the indicated topics it was clear that self-identity drew the most concerns. The two-day unit’s main purpose was learning the language used around personal identity to treat people with respect, he explained, adding the curriculum was less about sexual orientation than a person’s identity in general.
The unit did go into vocabulary regarding sexual orientation as well as the difference between biological sex and gender, Cresap said, as well as discussion on gender expectations and stereotypes.
Tuchardt said the committee wanted the unit to have a particular focus on harassment and intimidation, saying the unit was “about respecting each individual for who they are, not trying to convince one person to become something that they’re not.”
“This unit isn’t about trying to change anybody’s mind … it’s fine that you believe what you believe,” Tuchardt said, “but we do need to have tolerance of all people within our academic and … public situations.”
The prevention of pregnancy unit would begin with abstinence before moving into other methods of birth control, evaluating the effectiveness of each method, Tuchardt explained.
“The law does say that we cannot teach one thing to the exclusion of another,” Tuchardt said. Cresap noted that pregnancy prevention entailed non-universal values.
Tuchardt said the unit would feature both a female and male condom demonstration, with Cresap explaining that the effectiveness of the birth control method was highly dependent on proper use. Over concerns of a “green light effect” he said the unit wouldn’t use explicit pictures or models, though a demonstration was necessary to meet standards.
Following a unit on prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases students would then learn about healthy relationships. Cresap explained the unit went beyond sexual ones, including those with family and peers. The unit would feature discussions on communication and effective refusal skills.
Students would finish the course with a unit on state laws regarding a variety of topics including providing healthcare to minors, distribution of sexually-explicit media, coercion and consent, sexual misconduct and human trafficking.
Opt-out process and trainer controversy
Tuchardt addressed the opt-out process that parents could go through for some or all of the topics covered in the course. There would be a 30-day period prior to the unit for parents to opt their children out — Cresap noted the process for the sexual education curriculum was different from other opt-out procedures in the district as it allowed students to be removed from specific topics, not just the whole course.
Tuchardt said that students who opt out would have alternative assignments from the recently-adopted Essential Health textbook given at the discretion of the teacher.
In order to train teachers on the curriculum, Tuchardt said the district is considering working with Cardea Services, which raised concerns among some gathered at the forum given reports from conservative-leaning news organizations in July. Those reports stated the group operated with the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood on training teachers how to “obtain abortions without parental consent,” as The Daily Caller wrote.
BGPS Deputy Superintendent Denny Waters acknowledged the reports, saying they have expressed concerns on the issue.
“We are being very careful and sensitive around that subject area,” Waters said, adding the district would “work with them carefully to make sure that the messaging around any of the information in terms of talking to kids is based on factual information.”
Tuchardt added that district staff would be involved with the training to make sure the messaging fit in with district values.
The district board will consider adoption of the curriculum during regular meetings in October, the district stated. Should the curriculum not be adopted Tuchardt said the district did not have a concrete alternative in place, though it would likely be based from the district’s current Essential Health textbook.