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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane school board flooded with emails after sex education vote delayed

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)

Spokane school board members have been inundated with automated emails following a controversial decision to postpone voting on a new sex education curriculum.

Spokane Public Schools Board President Deana Brower has received nearly 500 formulaic emails following the decision. The emails don’t indicate whether or not the authors live in Spokane, she said.

The emails urge the board to “Keep Planned Parenthood out of our schools!”

The emails read, in part, “The ‘Get Real’ curriculum emphasizes gender fluidity and sexual promiscuity. Our high school students don’t need the ‘Get Real’ curriculum. What they need is real, substantive teaching on sex and sexuality that represents the truth – that sex is a wonderful thing designed for the covenant of marriage and the creation of children. And this teaching should be left to the parents and churches of our students – not nameless Planned Parenthood officials and school administrators.”

In her six years on the board, Brower said she’s never seen a comparable response.

“We serve our children best in our community when we leave the politics out of it, and do what’s best for kids,” Brower said. “And when we allow our local issues to become politicized by national agendas, I think we lose our focus.”

One of the board’s primary responsibilities is to listen and respond to community input. Automated petition blasts make it hard to decipher what is of local concern from what isn’t, she said. She urges constituents who live in the Spokane district to identify themselves.

“I do believe it plays into a larger agenda,” she said.

The petition, which has been circulating on social media for weeks, is hosted on the site Citizen Go, which is based in Madrid. The organization works from a “Christian” perspective and works to “defend and promote life, family and liberty,” as well as “ensure that those in power respect human dignity and individuals’ rights.”

The controversy focuses on the sex education curriculum Get Real, which was partially developed by Planned Parenthood. The curriculum would have replaced the current human growth and development course for middle school students.

The board was scheduled to vote on the curriculum on June 28. However, district staff pulled it from the board agenda two days prior to the board meeting in response to last-minute concerns.

Some community members argued that the issue is one of religious and moral values. At a June 28 board meeting, people raised concerns ranging from the fact that the curriculum is not an abstinence-based program to worries that it was an avenue for Planned Parenthood to infiltrate public schools.

John Repsold, a local pastor and a member of the Human Growth and Development citizens’ committee, asked the board to create a sex education curriculum that would represent Spokane’s values and needs. He proposes the district offer two options, an abstinence-based curriculum and a comprehensive curriculum, such as Get Real.

“I don’t see the point of making it so divisive when you have other options,” he said.

The Get Real curriculum is one of a handful of curricula that comply with a 2005 state law governing sex education, according to Laurie Dils, the sexual health education program supervisor for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Additionally, it complies with state standards adopted in 2016.

“If you’re looking at the law and all of the pieces outlined in the law, Get Real does a good job of meeting those requirements,” she said.

OSPI does not implement curricula in districts. That is up to individual districts. However, if a district chooses to teach sex education they must use an approved curricula. OSPI does review curricula based on state requirements. Get Real’s middle school curriculum scored the second highest in the 2015 review.

Dils hopes that “people take a deeper look at this curriculum and what it has to offer before deciding that it’s not a good thing based on the organization that created it.”

Based on her work statewide, Dils believes that controversies over sex education are usually limited to a “handful of parents.”

As evidence of this, she pointed to a 2017 study finding that “more than 89 percent of parents that identified as Republicans or Democrats” support comprehensive sex education.

The Get Real program has been shown to reduce sex. According to a 2014 study in 24 Boston-area schools where the curriculum was taught for three years, 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls had had sex by the end of eighth grade compared to boys and girls at schools without the curriculum. In all, there were 2,453 students who participated in the evaluations.

“A lot of times people are brought in from out of district or they are people who don’t have kids in the school system who are the loudest,” she said.

And while some would like to see an abstinence-only curriculum, Dils said that’s not an option.

“People were suggesting that an abstinence-based program would be more in line with the community values,” she said. “Well, an abstinence-based curriculum is not really legal anymore.”

Dils dismisses concerns about Planned Parenthood’s involvement.

“It’s not like it’s a vehicle for them to get into the classroom or do anything,” she said.

Stephanie Cates, the chairwoman for the county Republican Party, disagrees. Her primary concern with the curriculum is that it was developed by Planned Parenthood.

“I think it is an entry into the schools,” she said. “They have crafted the curriculum. Their logo is on the workbook. And as I said before, it essentially gives a stamp of approval to that organization.”

The Get Real program went through a lengthy review process before appearing on a board agenda, said Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer. In addition to review by teachers and administrators, the curriculum was also reviewed by the Human Growth and Development Citizens’ committee, a 15-member group comprised of community members.

“Ultimately, we want to get the best curriculum in the hands of teachers and in front of kids as we can,” he said. “We want to make decisions that are as broadly supported as possible.”

The citizens’ advisory committee will meet in August or September to discuss how to proceed, Swinyard said.

The current sex education curriculum has been stitched together over the past 10 years, Swinyard said. If the Get Real program is adopted it would “probably be the most materials that have been revised at one time in a while.” Usually curricula are phased out after eight to 10 years.

Brower urges people who live in the Spokane public school district to contact the board with their concerns. But, she hopes they identify themselves as constituents.

“It helps keep our agencies in our community reflective of the values of our community and not those of national agendas,” she said.