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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

It’s back to square one for Spokane Public Schools’ sex ed curriculum

Rogers High School. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A year after nearly approving a new sex ed curriculum, Spokane Public Schools officials are officially back to Step One.

In a letter that also went out to those who spoke at earlier meetings, school officials said this week that “District staff have returned to Step One to identify a new set of proposed materials in alignment with the Approval Process.”

That means more meetings – with additional proposed materials – as the district seeks to have a curriculum in place for next year’s seventh- through ninth-graders.

The district’s consideration of a new curriculum has been one of the most controversial topics the Spokane School Board has considered in recent years.

One side of the debate has advocated for a curriculum largely written by Planned Parenthood. Another side has promoted an approach closer to abstinence-only.

School administrators have been working to create a curriculum that’s neither.

The first meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Libby Center, where officials will “present the process of where we are right now,” said Heather Bybee, the district’s director of secondary curriculum.

The open meeting will be led by Bybee and Matthew Henshaw, the director of elementary curriculum.

Bybee also wants to make sure parents understand they can opt out of any lessons they deem inappropriate.

“We are trying to be really intentional about our communication,” Bybee said. “We’ll talk about the process and bring the community along with us and talk about possible timelines.”

The old timeline took a big step backward last month, leaving Spokane’s sex ed debate almost back where it started a year ago.

On June 28, 2017, the Spokane School Board was scheduled to vote on a curriculum called Get Real, which was partly designed by Planned Parenthood and approved by the district’s Human Growth and Development Citizen’s Advisory Committee.

However, in response to last-minute concerns about Planned Parenthood, district staff pulled it from the agenda two days prior to the board meeting.

The committee responded in September by passing the same curriculum, but district staff told board members on Nov. 8 that it would handpick lessons from different perspectives.

The latest delay came during the Human Growth and Development committee’s meeting on April 11. Instead of approving the revised curriculum and forwarding it to the school board, the committee voted to continue studying all 94 lessons from the most recent proposal.

Three weeks later, on May 2, the committee held another meeting, which according to this week’s letter “did not result in a recommendation to move the proposed curriculum forward.”

Paul Dillon, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said he appreciates the pause.

“It seems to indicate that they are taking more practical approach that hopeful the majority of the community can get behind,” said Dillon, whose organization has pushed for a curriculum he calls “evidence-based, LGBTQ-inclusive, that includes consent and does not have fear-based and shaming language.”

On June 5, Bybee and Henshaw will meet with the Human Growth and Development committee to review timelines and possibly introduce new material for review.

The public will be allowed to attend, and can offer written comment only.