Health educators weigh in on Sex Ed changes

When the Merrill Area Public Schools Board of Education makes a final determination on the Human Growth and Development Policy, which governs the corresponding portions of the health classes taught to district students, it will have heard all the various opinions on should MAPS change its policy to comply with state law or not.

The vote, expected to be taken tonight, Wednesday, at a 5:30 p.m. meeting in the High School Library, will be just on the policy. If the board opts not to change the policy, how the mandated changes in the curriculum will be determined by a special committee made up of parents, administrators, and health teachers later.

Any final change in the curriculum will be voted on by the Board at a later date before going into effect. Like 95 percent of the districts in the state that had abstinence only health education, MAPS has to opt in or out by Sept. 30 to provide legal notice to the parents.

At the center of the debate, besides the students, are the professional teachers who not only have to decide the changes, but also teach it to the students. Scott Arneson, health teacher at Merrill High School and Brian Suchocki, 6th grade health teacher at Prairie River Middle School, have heard the discussion coming from both sides of the argument. The biggest misconception is that the new curriculum would affect all grade levels. In reality, Suchocki said the committee wants to make the least possible changes and still comply with the new law.

“For what I teach, sixth grade health, it really isn’t going to affect that. Part of the law says it has to be ‘age appropriate.’ Right now, based on our feelings, age appropriate is to teach sixth grade health as we have it right now and put some changes in the upper levels at the high school level,” Suchocki said.

Arneson said that people are focusing on just one portion of the health curriculum.

“I think that so many people think when they hear human sexuality or the human growth and development or the human sexuality unit, that it’s a sex unit. It’s not about sex, it’s about the human body,” Arneson said. “The human body is the most fascinating creation, to me it’s awesome the things it does for us to function. Everyone is hung up on the human growth and development part of it, but there is a lot more to it than that. It’s about who we are as individuals. I think when kids come to high school – and they get to my class – they want to learn. Whatever information I provide to them is pertinent and relevant and useful.”

In an ideal world, teens would wait until marriage to start having sex, but teenagers make a lot of important lifestyle decisions in high school. Making sure they understand the full ramifications of such decisions is the responsibility of all adults in their lives.

“For some, it does. But it’s like anything else. I talk to them about alcohol, I talk to them a little about drugs, I talk to them about smoking and from the information I provide them they have to decide if they are or are not going to do it and what kind of lifestyle they are going to choose. The reality is, when they get to high school, they are fine tuning who they are, so we need to provide them with as much information as we can so when they leave and go out into the world, they will make healthy and safe choices,” Arneson said. “That’s what I hope we all do, that’s what we all should be doing.”

Both teachers agreed that providing the information to the students is not usurping the rights of the parents.

“I think that it is important that parents talk with their kids. I think this class can reinforce what they are saying and it can also open a dialogue between parents and their kids,” Suchocki said.

“One of my jobs as a health educator is to provide accurate information and present it in a way that I think is neutral in a professional manner; from that information they need to make personal judgments, hopefully good judgments. From that they form their life patterns and habits, and hopefully what I am providing them with my class are positive ones,” Arneson said. “They also get the information from their parents on these lifestyle decisions. It’s important that parents communicate with their teenagers.”

Suchocki hopes this community discussion on what to teach their children about sexuality and how it affects their body will give them even more reason to be involved in their children’s lives.

“I’m glad the parents are involved in this process, I’m glad they want to know what their kids are being taught,” he said. “But at the same time I think this is a good resource for them (parents) to open up communication with their kids.”

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