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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane schools won’t adopt Planned Parenthood sex education plan

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 Public Schools won’t adopt a divisive sex education curriculum, opting instead to handpick middle school lessons from multiple sources.

The decision comes after some community pushback against the involvement of Planned Parenthood and district missteps.

The Get Real curriculum, partially designed by Planned Parenthood, has been immersed in controversy since the spring. The board was scheduled to vote on the curriculum June 28 after a citizen’s advisory committee reviewed and approved the lesson material.

However, district staff pulled it from the board agenda two days prior to the board meeting in response to last-minute concerns. At a sometimes heated June board meeting community members expressed support, concern and outrage at the proposal. Some opposed the curriculum because of Planned Parenthood’s involvement. Still, on Sept. 27, the 15-person Human Growth and Development Citizen Advisory Committee voted 9-3 to approve the curriculum.

On Wednesday, district staff told board members they decided to go a different direction.

“What we are proposing is that we continue that historical practice of looking at each topic individually,” Adam Swinyard, the district’s chief academic officer told the board.

Because the curriculum only covers middle school human growth and development, Swinyard said it wouldn’t be difficult to handpick the lessons. The current middle school sex education curriculum was also designed this way.

The decision gives the district more flexibility, allowing it to respond to changing state standards. The change was also motivated by public concern and input, said district spokesman Kevin Morrison.

“Obviously, our school board had more emails and letters on this than they did when they (adopted) the AP geometry (curriculum),” Morrison said. “To say it didn’t have an impact would be an untruth.”

However, there was an added complication: A committee formed to review sex education curricula chose a different program than Get Real. However, some district staff later pushed Get Real instead.

Swinyard said that is not the typical process and is an “important detail for folks to know.”

“What’s not typical is for district staff to say ‘Hey, we recommend choice A or choice B,’ ” Swinyard said.

That staff recommendation was made after the state released a new set of screening criteria for sex education curricula.

Board President Deana Brower reprimanded staff for making that recommendation during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I feel like the (citizens) committee has really gone through the wringer on this,” she said. “It’s disappointing that it was handled the way that it was by staff.”

Board member Sue Chapin emphasized that whatever curriculum is developed must still be in compliance with state standards. She said she hopes building the curriculum lesson-by-lesson “is not seen as a way to avoid teaching around specific topics or providing specific science and medically accurate information.”

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising,” said Rachel Todd, Planned Parenthood’s education director. “I think there has just been a lot of pushback.”

In an interview before the district announced its decision, Todd, who is also a member of the Human Growth and Development Citizen Advisory Committee, said the district’s decision to postpone voting on the material “felt like a slap in the face to all the time that folks had spent working on this.”

“It almost felt like they didn’t trust what we were doing,” she said.

As for the controversy around the curriculum, Todd believes there was more community support for the curriculum than was “publicly reflected.”

“I actually think that it’s a lot less contentious than what it seems in articles and in stories that have come out,” she said.

She added, “I think it’s really easy to fall into a trap of creating controversy around things.”

Nikki Lockwood, an education activist, parent and member of the committee, also was disappointed, and like Todd, believes most in the community support the curriculum.

“All the work derailed by a vocal minority,” she said.

The Rev. John Repsold who is also a member of the citizens advisory committee, was happy to hear the news Thursday morning. He thinks that a “significant segment of Spokane” was against the curriculum.

“We can probably do a better job than this (Get Real),” he said. Repsold is a pastor at the evangelical Mosaic Fellowship.

In July, the board was flooded with roughly 500 automated emails, which appeared to come from all over the world, urging them not to adopt the curriculum. However, the Inlander reported in October that between late June through August, 66 people emailed the board and identified themselves as constituents. Sixty of the 66 supported adopting Get Real.

However, Brower said since August the board “started to get an increase in individually written letters of opposition”

The Get Real curriculum was developed by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and published by the behavioral health nonprofit Education, Training and Research. 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.

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 sex by the end of the eighth grade compared to boys and girls at schools without the curriculum. In all, there were 2,453 students who participated in the evaluations.

However, one conservative group questioned the validity of the study, noting that the study doesn’t give detailed information about what sex education courses were being taught in place of the Get Real curriculum, and claimed there were issues in accurately tracking the students over the three years.