INDEPENDENCE — The Central School District is working on becoming compliant with state requirements for teaching human sexuality health.
Jennifer Kubista, CSD superintendent, said at the Jan. 6 school board meeting that the district’s K-5 human sexuality health education committee has developed an initial plan for implementation, though they are still working on some minor adjustments.
The district is required to have K-12 sexual education programs. In 2015, the Oregon legislature passed Erin’s Law, which requires the development and adoption of child sexual abuse prevention instruction for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in all Oregon public schools.
“When we talk about human sexuality, one of the key components of that is talking about, focusing on, emphasizing abstinence, but also not to exclude the education of students on the use of condoms and contraceptives for skills-based education,” Kubista said. “This must be a comprehensive plan, and so again that’s why have a really developed 6 – 12. Now we are focusing on K-5. And it really has been the focus.”
Julia Heilman, director of student services, and Alisha Bowen-Resseman, Talmadge Middle School physical education teacher, presented to the board.
Bowen-Resseman facilitated the nine-member committee.
The foundation for identifying what they are going to teach is driven by standards for public elementary and secondary education, Heilman said.
She said they also need to make sure the concepts being taught are related to developmental levels.
“A couple of years ago, we adopted The Great Body Shop,” Heilman said. “(It) was vetted through community folks, and the school board reviewed the curriculum. I think the work this committee has done brings it to a whole new level to have that be a more meaningful tool for our staff and our students.”
Kubista said they want to make sure students use “high academic language and rigor.”
That means using medically accurate definitions, she said.
“Some people can see that as controversial, but that is the priority of what we are required to do within that comprehensive education from a K-12 perspective,” Kubista said.
Bowen-Resseman said the committee focused their efforts with student safety in mind.
“We wanted to make sure that everything was very age-appropriate, but centered around Erin’s Law, with the sex abuse prevention, and of course with the new Oregon 2016 standards helping to guide all of our work,” Bowen-Resseman said.
Kubista mentioned that in a recent case of sexual abuse at a local day care, a student came forward because of what she learned in her seventh-grade health class.
She was referring to the case of Quinlyn Harden, who was convicted in October of 30 counts of sex-abuse related charges.
“The committee knew that Erin’s Law was going to be a guiding principal to our work,” Bowen-Resseman said. “We needed to make sure the students were gaining an awareness of sexual abuse and learning the skills to report sexual abuse to a trusted adult.”
The plan is to have four lessons each year, ideally between February and May, but dates may differ by school.
“The instruction is all age-appropriate and medically accurate, and it’s not shame- or fear-based,” Bowen-Resseman said. “Teachers are all asked to review the videos and the lessons before teaching just to ensure that they’re comfortable with what’s about to be taught. Teachers are going to notify parents prior to any Erin’s Law instruction and then share the lessons or overview or videos with parents if any of them would like to preview that material.”
She said all The Great Body Shop curriculum is available online, so it is easy for parents to access.
The committee categorized the human sexuality standards into four categories: preventative care, human anatomy and development, consent and relationships, gender and orientation.
“This was to help simplify our planning and ensure instruction was comprehensive across all grade levels,” Bowen-Resseman said.
One of the slides Bowen-Resseman showed the board in her presentation featured a scope and sequence for consent and relationships lessons.
“This is kind of our committee’s bragging moment here because (Oregon Department of Education) has asked if they can steal our format in moving forward and training other districts in this process,” she said.
It shows standards for each grade level.
“We laid it out to show that starting in kindergarten, the learning objective is as simple as personal boundaries,” Bowen-Resseman said. “As we progress, all the way to (third grade), the learning objective is about expressing affection. Where we end in fifth grade, now our learning objective is talking about the impacts of power differences.”
It’s a heavy topic, she said, but the way the committee set it up is age-appropriate.
“It allows kids to have those skills that the content builds upon for greater understanding and to enhance their vocabulary to be able to advocate for themselves,” she said.
Most lessons are from The Great Body Shop, but the committee also used curriculum from Rights. Respect. Responsibility; and Welcoming Schools. They are both free and meet national sexual education standards.
“We had to develop a few supporting materials to assist with some of our vocabulary, and then we also worked on opt-out letters, and parent support and communication plans,” Bowen-Resseman said.
The next step is to start using the curriculum in the district’s elementary schools.
Board member Donn Wahl asked if any of the curriculum has been used as a test case.
“We’ve had the curriculum for a long time and the standards have been in place since 2016,” Bowen-Resseman said. “I think throughout our schools, there have been teachers who have taught the curriculum. We haven’t necessarily been able to gather the feedback on who’s actually done it and what’s resulted from it.”
Board member Jerry Shinkle asked if “the birth control part” was taught in K-5 or later.
“I believe some of the birth control discussion does come up in grade five,” Bowen-Resseman said. “It’s at a very low level to introduce the vocabulary. The bulk of that curriculum starts to hit in sixth and seventh grade.”
Kubista said there are opt-out options for parents who don’t want their children to participate in the lessons.
“We will continue to communicate this, although my goal is that people not opt out, because I think it’s good information for kids to have,” she said.
Wahl asked for clarification about information given to parents.
Part of the communication is a letter that goes out from all the schools to alert parents that curriculum is starting between February and May, Bowen-Resseman said.
“Parents will be invited to come in, at any time — different schools have talked about when they would invite parents to come in and have a viewing of the curriculum or be able to ask some of those questions,” she said.
Kubista said the district office would also offer that.
Board president Steve Love asked if the planning document was public yet, so it could be available for people to view.
There are some final adjustments, Kubista said, then the board will come to the board for approval in the spring.