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Critics question Spokane Public Schools’ rejection of proposed sex education curriculum

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 16, 2017, 10:13 a.m.

Planned Parenthood educator Rachel Todd explains the differences in birth control options on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Planned Parenthood educator Rachel Todd explains the differences in birth control options on Friday, Nov. 18, 2016, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Community members questioned the Spokane Public Schools board of directors Wednesday about the district’s decision not to adopt a new, comprehensive middle school sex education plan.

Last week, Spokane Public Schools staff announced their intention to hand-pick middle school sex education material lesson by lesson, instead of adopting the Get Real curriculum, which was designed in part by Planned Parenthood.

Originally, the board was to vote on the curriculum in June after being reviewed and approved by a citizens advisory committee. However, district staff pulled it from the agenda in response to last-minute concerns. After reconsidering, the Human Growth and Development Citizen Advisory Committee voted 9-3 to approve the curriculum on Sept. 27. An added complication surfaced after a district staff member recommended the Get Real curriculum, a violation of district procedure.

About 10 people addressed the board Wednesday night. All expressed support for the Get Real curriculum.

After the first person spoke, board member Sue Chapin paused the proceedings and spoke to the audience. She said there had been misunderstandings and assumptions made about the process. The fact that the district decided not to implement the Get Real curriculum doesn’t mean individual lessons or sections couldn’t come from it, she said.

“But, in the end we are going to have a sex education, human growth and development program that is medically and scientifically accurate,” Chapin said.

Still, some public speakers questioned the wisdom of designing the curriculum lesson by lesson.

“One of my concerns is that by taking apart a curriculum and putting it together separately we miss pieces,” said Karen Blaine.

In a news release, Planned Parenthood also urged the district to consider the Get Real curriculum.

“Spokane students deserve a more thoughtful and comprehensive approach to their health education, not a piece-by-piece collection of random materials,” the release read.

In a letter sent to the district on Sunday, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund decried the decision and accused district leaders of caving under “the pressure of a few uninformed, regressive and ideologically opposed individuals who will forever disagree with advancements in state standards for sex education.”

The letter blamed the district’s decision partially on pressure to “not support an upcoming school levy.” The Smith-Barbieri fund is a local nonprofit that has given to Planned Parenthood, the YMCA, the ACLU and many other groups.

The letter referenced a church pamphlet written by the Rev. Darin Connall urging his parishioners not to support the Get Real curriculum.

“This should trouble all Catholic parents with students in Spokane Public Schools,” the letter reads. “It should also give pause to all tax paying citizens whose dollars fund Spokane Public Schools and it needs to be considered the next time we are asked to support a levy.”

Kevin Morrison, the district’s spokesman, said he hadn’t heard of any coordinated effort to threaten the levy.

Board President Deana Brower said in a interview last week that she heard some people say they did not want their tax money going toward a Planned Parenthood-developed curriculum. But, like Morrison, she said there was no organized effort.

Stephanie Cates, the chairwoman of the Spokane County Republican Party, was pleased to see the district not select the Get Real curriculum. But she said the county party never threatened to urge members to vote against the levy.