After a two-year hiatus, the Central Valley School District is set to resume the process to select a new sexual health curriculum that satisfies the requirements of state law approved by the Washington Legislature in 2020.
The law was hotly debated across the state as rumors swirled about what it contained and what children would be taught in schools. Much of the information circulating at the time was incorrect and the district’s Associate Superintendent of Learning and Teaching Tim Nootenboom said its main goal in the selection process will be to “demystify” state standards and make sure parents know what is in it.
“People are asking: Why are we teaching sexual health in first grade?” he said. “The answer is we’re not. Are there sexual health standards for first grade? Absolutely, but those are not required. We’re only going to do what is required of us.”
In fact, the district’s curriculum already meets all the requirements of law in kindergarten through seventh grade and nothing new will be taught in those grades, Nootenboom said. Some of the curriculum may be tweaked to make sure it is current and medically accurate, he said, but no topics will be added.
In grades K-3, sessions are focused on topics such as how to manage your feelings, how to set goals and how to get along with others. According to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the goal of the entire sexual health curriculum is to teach students to respect boundaries, develop healthy relationships and learn about sexual health and development in an age-appropriate manner .
Not all topics have to do with sex. The bystander intervention component includes how to intervene when witnessing bullying or sexual violence. There is information on how to avoid exploitative relationships.
Central Valley suspended teaching sexual health in spring 2021 so it could examine its curriculum. At that point, the district needed to concentrate on virtual learning and didn’t have the time to focus on selecting new curriculum, Nootenboom said.
“We just put everything on hold,” he said. “There were a lot of questions in the community.”
The changes to the district’s curriculum come in eighth grade. Students have been taught about human reproduction, abstinence skills, HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, decision-making skills and personal responsibility. The law now requires districts also teach about birth control , sexual violence prevention and consent. Those same topics will be added in high school, along with gender stereotypes, coercion and pregnancy.
Transgender issues will not be part of the curriculum, Nootenboom said.
“The standards around sexual health and transgender are optional and therefore will not be part of that,” he said. “There is transgender comments in the sexual harassment education to protect all parties.”
Letters will be sent to parents inviting them to apply to serve on one of two committees that will help select the curriculum. The Review Committee will begin meeting in September and will include three teachers, three parents and district officials. After they select a curriculum, it will be available for parents to review in December. In January, the curriculum will go before the Instructional Materials Committee, which includes parents, for review before going to the board for approval.
Nootenboom said he expects to hear a lot of feedback from parents on the issue in the coming months. “We anticipate that,” he said. “Everyone is going to have a chance to review and provide feedback.”
The district needs to have a new curriculum in place by the end of the 2022-23 school year. Sexual health education must be provided once to students in grades 4 and 5 and twice to students in grades 6-8 and again in grades 9-12.
Even after the new curriculum is selected, parents can opt their children out, Nootenboom said. Parents are notified in advance of when the sexual health information will be taught and will have a chance to review it. They can opt out at that time if they choose.
“We will have some robust opportunities for families to opt out and do other activities that are meaningful,” Nootenboom said.
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