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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane School Board approves new sex ed curriculum

The northwest corner of Lewis and Clark High School is pictured on Nov. 4, 2018. The Spokane Public Schools board unanimously voted in a new sexual education curriculum for 9th graders Wednesday night, capping a process that spanned 18 months. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

A better-developed sex education curriculum was worth waiting for, the Spokane Public Schools board was told Wednesday night.

Board members agreed, capping an 18-month odyssey by voting unanimously to approve a new program for ninth-graders.

“It’s an amazing step forward after so many restarts,” board member Mike Wiser said before a packed audience at the district’s downtown offices.

Not everyone in the audience agreed – especially on the subject of gender identification – but many expressed approval of the process that led to Wednesday’s action.

The curriculum, which was approved by both a citizens’ committee and the district leadership team, will be implemented in January.

Lessons will be based partly on the 3Rs (rights, respect and responsibility) lessons published last year by Advocates for Youth, and partly on input from the community.

Students are allowed to opt out of individual lessons or the entire curriculum.

During a presentation to the board, district academic coordinator Adam Swinyard defended the “cohesiveness and flexibility” of the curriculum.

At the same time, Heather Bybee, the director of secondary education, cited the need to replace “outdated” human growth and development materials and the need to respond to new standards in the Healthy Youth Act approved by the state in 2016.

Those standards include lessons in anatomy, reproduction and pregnancy; puberty and development; prevention and self-identity.

That last topic subject drew rebukes from several speakers.

“Multiple genders are a lie,” said Spokane resident Andrei Lisovsky, who added that the treatment of gender identity will create confusion for students.

Pavel Kobzar, who has two children in the district, also rejected the idea that “how you feel is what your gender is.”

However, like other speakers, Kobzar praised the district for its decision last year to table a curriculum that was seen by some as overly reliant on materials from Planned Parenthood.

“Thank you for not passing it the last time, and we are happy for the flexibility,” Kobzar said.

Planned Parenthood also weighed in with commentary after Wednesday’s vote.

“After repeated delays and changes, this is a step in the right direction but there’s more work that needs to be done,” said Rachel Todd, director of education for Planned Parenthood in Spokane.

Planned Parenthood also cited the 3Rs’ reliance on social and emotional learning that might “help combat dating violence and bullying, including for LGBTQ youth.”

“It is 2018; we need sex education that respects students of all gender identities and sexual orientations,” Todd said.

Two speakers offered strong criticism of the new curriculum.

“Our community is at a crossroads,” said Spokane resident Susan Bacon, who added that “this sex education curriculum is 100 percent in opposition to religious freedom.”

Bruce Wakeman, a Spokane Valley resident, likened the entire process to “getting a pack of lemmings to run together so they can get to the cliff to drown.”

Others offered specific criticisms, notably the lack of take-home work that would allow students and parents to communicate on sensitive subject matter.

“I think we can serve students and parents much better by incorporating take-home lessons,” said Spokane resident John Repsold.