Before hearing conflicting viewpoints by students, parents and staff members during the July 9 public meeting at the Lewisville Campus, the Battle Ground School Board voted to suspend talks of implementing a new health curriculum until school resumes in September.
“We want to make sure that our process is clear and transparent,” Superintendent Mark Ross said to a crowd of hundreds of concerned citizens. “It’s important for us to stop, take a step back and look at all of our options and see what best fits our needs, and what complies with state requirements.”
In the days leading up to the meeting, parents contacted Ross and members of board asking what Family Life And Sexual Health (FLASH), a curriculum designed by King County Public Health, is about and what it could bring to the Battle Ground school district. After reading about the content online, parents are concerned about what their children will be exposed to when teachers start talking about gender roles and identity.
“This will reverberate around the entire student body,” said Tyler Long, a father of three in the district, to the board. “I think you guys know the value of this community, and the values of this community are not those of King County. So when the values of this community conflict with those of King County, I think it’s your job as our representatives to push the limit the other way. I’m not telling you to break the law, but as our representatives, you need to be pushing the limit the other way.”
Two students spoke in favor of FLASH during the meeting. Kambrya Smith will be a sophomore in the fall at Battle Ground High School. She explained her school is separated into three categories – the LGBTQ community, students who support this community and those who need to be educated.
“I believe if everyone was taught what gender identity is, it would bring togetherness and a bond within our schools,” Smith said. “Everyone would feel less alone. The trans community would feel less hurt, because we are all human and everyone should be allowed to be who they are.”
Shayden Sayles, who will be a senior at the Battle Ground High School, was born as a female but identifies as a male.
“It always starts with a lengthy fear that I feel the moment I walk in the door, and that is because I know I’m the freak that catches everybody’s attention,” Sayles said of life on campus for a transgender student. “From personal experience, that fear turns to panic when I hear the occasional, ‘Hey f----- or there goes the trany down the hallway,’ when I’m simply trying to get to my next class.
“Not everything is bad. The friends that I have who are educated on this matter are always there to stand up to the hate that I receive, which makes this high school experience worth fighting through,” Sayles added. “I understand that I’m different and unfamiliar things can be scary, but I just wanted to put out there that my community and I are not anything to be scared of.”
Holly Smith has worked as a psychologist in the Battle Ground School District for 11 years. She shared statistics from a 2015 Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Out of thousands of youth asked, who identify as part of the LGBTQ community, 34 percent said they have been bullied and 10 percent have been threatened or injured while at school. She added that transgender students are more likely than their heterosexual peers to skip school over fear of safety, and one-third of them attempted suicide.
“I’ve worked in the school with students (who question their) gender identity. You can’t tell me gender is biological when I have a 5-year-old crying in my office because their body does not match,” Smith said. “The CDC has given us some clear guidelines for what is appropriate for us to do. Battle Ground is doing a majority of them.
“We are encouraging respect for all students. We are identifying safe places with counselors, admin and teachers. We are encouraging student led clubs with our gay, straight alliance. We are providing training to our school staff through professional development,” she described. “The one thing we are not doing that the CDC has recommended is for us to provide a health curriculum that gears towards those youth so that they can learn what they need to learn.”
Some parents are taking matters into their own hands.
Kenny Smith organized a group and a petition to stop the school board from approving this new curriculum.
Doug Sheddy represents a group of pastors in the region that oppose any curriculum “with a Planned Parenthood stamp on it, a FLASH King County stamp on it or the transgender agenda.”
“We align ourselves with thousands of parents in Oklahoma, California, Colorado and many other states who were appalled when their children came home with some of this material and they weren’t even notified ahead of time,” Sheddy said. “I know that may not be the case here, but our concern is what’s happening elsewhere will come here.”
This worries Wendy Rush, a parent advisor from the school’s instructional materials committee. She said parents, community members and staff have a right to be involved in the choosing of a new health curriculum and that there needs to be at least one month notice before it gets put into the classroom.
“So for this to be put in by the fall, I thought there’s no way that’s even going to happen,” Rush said. “There was never legal notification about this, so that’s concerning to me.”
Like many of the parents, Rush spent the past two weeks reading the FLASH content online.
“What in the world is this? What are we looking at?” Rush asked. “Policy says the materials have to be presented ahead of time so that committee members can properly go over it. I don’t want to be held accountable for any legal issues because we did not do our jobs properly and we did not follow policy.”
In an interview after the meeting, Ross appreciated the members of the public who presented an enlightening discussion on both sides of the issue.
“The biggest point is, parents get to decide what is OK for their children,” he said. “They can opt out. They certainly have that option. However, they don’t get to decide what’s OK for other people’s kids. That’s a decision for the board to make as far as what we are going to offer and then parents can make their own informed choices.”
The school board will have to revisit this new curriculum in September. Ross doesn't plan to ask teachers to come back in the summer.
“If it takes a year to complete this process, or however long it takes, then we’ll move forward,” Ross said. “Initially, we felt we needed to get it done because we were thinking that we were going to order the materials and have them ready for the fall. There’s timelines that have to be met. But, it’s more important for us to get input than to meet those timelines.”