Committee not yet ready to make sex ed recommendation to BoE

After its third meeting last Friday, the committee charged with studying MAPS’ Human Growth and Development curriculum — and the sex education component that has some parents upset — has not reached a point where it will recommend to the Board of Education how to proceed.

MAPS, like many districts in the state, finds itself faced with changing its sex education curriculum in order to be in compliance with Wisconsin Statute sec. 118.019 (see full text on our website) which was passed by the legislature earlier this year. Under the changes in the statute, districts that offer sex education must include education on human reproduction, to include contraception, among many other changes. It is these changes to the MAPS policy of abstinence only that has local parents upset.

At the MAPS Board of Education meeting Aug. 16, several parents told the board they were upset with how the law has taken away their parental rights to educate their children on sex in a manner that they see fit. A couple of parents also objected to how the new requirements were drafted by organizations favoring abortion and same sex relationships.

In response, Family Planning Health Services (FPHS) in Wausau has countered the parent’s claims with a campaign of its own supporting the broadening of the MAPS curriculum. It has posted interviews on their website with MHS graduates about how they feel about the issue.

Both sides have waged a battle of words in the letters to the editor section of this newspaper and others in the area. Commentary on articles has been heated on both sides.

Carole Witt Starck, director of curriculum instruction for Merrill Area Public Schools, has never seen such a controversy surrounding a proposed curriculum change. The fervor caught her and the other members of the Human Growth and Development committee off guard.

“At the last meeting (in July), we didn’t even have any (public) input. I didn’t even know that the people were showing up. This time, there was a gallery. There was no anticipation on my part that the gallery was going to be able to speak,” she said. “But because we wanted to be gracious, we used the process of asking the committee if they wanted to open it up and that’s what we did. But it was my responsibility, like at a board meeting, where I tried to keep things focused in somewhat of a time frame.”

To that end, one spokesperson from each side of the issue was allowed to address the committee on Friday.

If MAPS does not change its Human Growth and Development curriculum By Sept. 30, it will not be able to offer the sex education component to its students because the abstinence based curriculum does not comply with the new law, even though one of the points in the statute is that districts must “present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior in relationship to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils.”

“We have a Human Growth and Development policy that is board approved that says that we are one of the 95 districts in the state that has Human Growth and Development. We adhere to our policy which says that if we have a Human Growth and Development curriculum, which we do, then we have to teach the new component. If, at any time, the board were to decide to do away with the policy, then we would not have any education in that area at all,” Witt Starck said.

Witt Starck said it will be interesting to see what recommendation the committee forwards to the school board. Any recommendation that comes would not be in time to be on the board’s Sept. 8 agenda. At that meeting Witt Starck will have an update on the committee’s action. The Health and Human Development Committee’s next meeting is Sept. 26, which is the day before the second board meeting of September.

“We may be able to make a recommendation to the board after that meeting (Sept. 26),” Witt Starck said.

She said that while health education is a graduation requirement in Wisconsin, the sex education component makes up only a small portion of the high school class and is not required by the DPI for graduation. But eliminating the component entirely would be short changing the education that MHS students receive.

“Inside of any good health program would be education on reproduction, just as we have education on the excretory system or the digestive system,” Witt Starck said. “Knowledge of the reproductive system is part of a comprehensive health program and that is where it would fit. Our kids would graduate with the health credit, but the information that is covered by that policy would not be in that class, so that whole body of knowledge would be gone.”

She said if the Board takes no action on the policy by Sept. 30, the current policy remains in effect, although that would leave the district not in compliance with the statute. She added that the DPI has not given the district any clear guidelines on how firm the Sept. 30 deadline is so that if the board needs another month or two of debate before making a decision, it is unclear if they could legally do so. Witt Starck said if that is the case, any change could still be implemented this school year.

“This curriculum is not taught until spring of the year to eighth grade and at the end of the semester in high school health,” she said.

She also said that there is a misconception among the parents who oppose the new requirement that MAPS is rushing the curriculum changes.

“This meeting (Friday) was our third meeting. We had one in the spring, one in July and this one last week,” Witt Starck said. “We are treating this as we would any other curricular update and that is through a series of meetings where we gather the opinions of the professionals. Now regarding Human Growth and Development, we also have a committee to help us do that. But we are not rushing this at all; this is the normal timeline for this kind of curricular update.”

She also said that the teachers of the Human Growth and Development classes feel that stripping the sex education component from the class for a year to study its impact, as some parents are demanding, would mean the students taking the course this year would be done a disservice.

“Their opinion is that this curricular update is very much needed and that they feel that without a whole lot of adjustment, that they can meet the law,” Witt Starck said.

Complete text of Wisconsin Statute sec. 118.019 that governs human growth and development instruction in K-12 schools

Wisconsin Statute sec. 118.019 encourages all school boards to ensure that pupils in their districts are provided age-appropriate instruction in human growth and development. The instruction should support and enhance communication between pupils and their parents and provide pupils with the knowledge, skills, and support necessary to make healthy decisions now and throughout their lifetimes and to make responsible decisions about sexual behavior.
Instruction must be:
• Age-appropriate: suitable to a particular age group of pupils based on the developing cognitive and emotional capacity of and behaviors typical for the age group.
• Medically accurate: supported by the weight of research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods; where appropriate, the information is published in peer-reviewed journals; and the information is recognized as accurate by relevant leading professional organizations or agencies, such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, or the American Academy of Pediatrics.
School boards that provide an instructional program in human growth and development must:
• Use instructional methods and materials that do not promote bias against pupils of any race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic or cultural background, or against sexually active pupils or children with disabilities.
• Promote self-esteem and positive interpersonal skills, with an emphasis on healthy relationships, including friendships, marriage, and romantic and familial relationships.
• Identify counseling, medical, and legal resources for survivors of sexual abuse and assault, including resources for escaping violent relationships; and present medically accurate information to pupils.
• Present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior in relationship to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils.
• Emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity before marriage is the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.
• Present medically accurate information and, when age-appropriate, address:
a) The importance of communication about sexuality and decision making about sexual behavior between the pupil and the pupil’s parents, guardians, or other family members.
b) Reproductive and sexual anatomy and physiology, including biological, psychosocial, and emotional changes that accompany maturation.
c) Puberty, pregnancy, parenting, body image, and gender stereotypes.
d) The skills needed to make responsible decisions about sexuality and sexual behavior throughout the pupil’s life, including how to refrain from making inappropriate verbal, physical, and sexual advances and how to recognize, rebuff, and report any unwanted or inappropriate verbal, physical, and sexual behaviors.
e) The benefits of and reasons for abstaining from sexual activity. Instruction under this subdivision shall stress the value of abstinence as the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
f) The health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the federal food and drug administration to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods approved by the federal food and drug administration to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
g) Methods for developing healthy life skills, including setting goals, making responsible decisions, communicating, and managing stress.
h) How alcohol and drug use affect responsible decision making.
i) The impact of media and one’s peers on thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to sexuality.
j) Marriage and parental responsibility.
k) Criminal penalties for engaging in sexual activities involving a child.
l) Sex offender registration requirements, including who is required to report, what information must be reported, who has access to the information reported, and the implications of being registered.
School boards, on an annual basis, must provide parents of each pupil enrolled in the school district with an outline of the human growth and development curriculum used in the pupil’s grade level and information regarding how the parent may inspect the complete curriculum and instructional materials. In addition, the curriculum and instructional materials must be made available at any time upon request.
A school board that elects not to provide an instructional program in human growth and development must, by September 30 of each school year, send home to the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in the school district a notice that includes:
• A statement that the school board is encouraged by state statute to provide instruction in human growth and development in grades kindergarten to 12.
• A statement that the school board is not providing any human growth and development instruction to pupils enrolled in the school district.
Students can be exempted from HGD instruction if the student’s parent files a written request with the teacher or school principal.
In addition, this statute requires that any school district that offers a HGD curriculum must appoint an advisory committee composed of parents, teachers, school administrators, pupils, health care professionals, members of the clergy, and other residents of the school district to develop and review the curriculum at least every three years. The term “develop” can be interpreted in the broad sense of ongoing development and evolution. If interpreted in this way, the advisory committee does not necessarily write the curriculum’s lessons, especially if the school district has a curriculum in place. Feedback, edits, decisions on topics, and timing are all effective ways for a committee to work and develop a curriculum. In some cases the committee will actually develop and write lessons for the curriculum.

Source: Human Growth and Development: A Resource Packet (4th Edition) 2005- April 2010 Update Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Section 2: State Statutes 3

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