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Spokane school board gets a sex ed lecture

UPDATED: Thu., June 29, 2017

Spokane Public Schools has delayed making a decision on a new sex education curriculum for middle school students following some complaints it was designed in part by Planned Parenthood. (AP / File)
Spokane Public Schools has delayed making a decision on a new sex education curriculum for middle school students following some complaints it was designed in part by Planned Parenthood. (AP / File)

Sex was on everyone’s mind at Wednesday night’s school board meeting.

During an hour-and-a-half of public testimony, community members expressed concerns, support and at times outrage toward a proposed middle school sex education curriculum.

As of Monday morning, the board of directors was scheduled to vote on adopting the “Get Real” curriculum, which is partially developed by Planned Parenthood. However, after one member of the Human Growth and Development citizen committee withdrew their support of the curriculum the decision was postponed.

One of the curriculum’s stated goals is to promote discussion about sex and sexuality in an effort to “delay sex among middle school students.” The curriculum also teaches about LGBTQ issues and terminology. It fulfills Washington state’s sex education requirements.

That didn’t stop parents, teachers and activists from attending Wednesday’s meeting. More than 15 people addressed the board, each speaking for roughly four minutes. Due to public meeting laws, the board couldn’t respond directly because the item was not on the agenda.

Some of the speakers raised concerns that the Get Real program is not an abstinence-based curriculum. Instead it teaches students about multiple contraceptive forms, including abstinence.

“My main thought is, ‘Is this curriculum representing our society?’ ” Mike O’Connor said to the board.

Spokane is predominately a faith-and-values based community, he said. O’Connor, and others, also decried Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the curriculum, claiming it was a conflict of interest and promoting a partisan organization, one they said is antithetical to faith-based values.

Pastor John Repsold, a member of the Human Growth and Development citizen committee, said the issue comes down to two opposing worldviews. On one side, there is the belief that gender is relative, and on the other, there are gender absolutes that correspond to biological sex.

He asked the district to develop a sex-education curriculum tailored to Spokane’s demographics and needs.

Those speaking in support of the curriculum highlighted the medical and scientific accuracy of the curriculum.

Amanda Braley, a biology teacher at Gonzaga University, said her daughter, a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark High School, said the current sex education is out of date.

“I’m very excited to see a curriculum that is medically and scientifically current and accurate,” she told the board.

Alan Chatham, a graduate from Spokane Public Schools, said he’d reviewed the curriculum and wished he’d had those lessons while in high school.

Joy Peltier, the chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, also attended Wednesday’s meeting. Peltier, who has two students who attend district schools, said the curriculum encourages students to talk to their parents about what they are learning in class so “parents can inform those discussions,” she said.

She encouraged the board of directors to follow the advice of the Human Growth and Development Committee and approve the curriculum. In a Thursday news release, Planned Parenthood emphasized the Get Real curriculum has been reviewed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and meets all state standards.

Some comments highlighted public misinformation or confusion. One woman erroneously stated that sex education is taught to kindergartners. The district’s Human Growth and Development curriculum doesn’t start until the fourth grade, according to Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer.

O’Connor wondered what would happen to teachers who didn’t agree with the Get Real curriculum.

According to district spokesman Kevin Morrison, if there is a “philosophical difference,” teachers can opt out of teaching that lesson or course.

The Human Growth and Development Committee will reconvene in the fall and review the curriculum again. It’s not clear when, or if, the board of directors will vote to adopt the curriculum.

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