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Battle Ground mulls updated sex ed curriculum

District’s board of directors meeting on Monday to deliberate program

By , Columbian Education Reporter
Published: October 13, 2019, 6:00am

Pending changes to Battle Ground Public School’s sexual health education curriculum have the parents of LGBTQ students optimistic about what a more inclusive curriculum will mean for their children.

The district’s board of directors on Monday will begin deliberating its updated sex education program. In addition to lessons about consent, sexually transmitted diseases and puberty, the three-week set of lessons features a two-day unit about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Conservative critics have been speaking out against the program for more than a year — 18 percent of parents and community polled in a district survey reported they were afraid the district was trying to “promote an LGBTQ lifestyle.” But Melanie Davis, whose transgender daughter attends Prairie High School, hopes the curriculum will help her daughter and students like her feel safer and more supported at school.

“We’ve always had LGBTQ youth,” Davis said. “The U.S. has always had that. It’s whether we choose to include them or not.”

Jessica Cole and Eunice Ingermanson are the co-directors of Battle Ground PFLAG, the offshoot of a national organization previously called Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The organization supports the families, friends and allies of LGBTQ people.

Public Meeting

The Battle Ground Public Schools Board of Directors will have a first reading of its sexual health education curriculum at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Lewisville Campus, located at 406 N.W. Fifth Ave., Battle Ground.

Both Cole and Ingermanson say their once conservative Christian values were challenged when they had children come out. The two have been speaking at Battle Ground school board races, encouraging the board to adopt a curriculum that includes lessons about gender identity and sexual orientation.

“LGBTQ people are just like everyone else,” Cole said. “It’s important they know how to take care of themselves, to have sex in a healthy and safe way.”

Ingermanson pointed to the high rates of bullying against LGBTQ teens. According to Healthy Youth Survey data, 9 percent of Clark County sophomores reported they’d been harassed due to their sexual orientation.

“We don’t need that to happen if they understand (LGBTQ people) are legitimate beings,” Ingermanson said.

Battle Ground Public Schools ran a community input survey last fall, collecting feedback from about 2,000 parents and community members.

Storytelling event set for LGBTQ people

When Paul Iarrobino started organizing a storytelling event for LGBTQ people in Battle Ground, he didn’t think it would intersect with the school district’s adoption of more inclusive sexual health education curriculum. But some things have a way of taking on a life of their own.

Iarrobino is the artistic director of Portland-based Our Bold Voices, a nonprofit that organizes storytelling events — sort of short motivational speeches with a mission — throughout the metro area.

Iarrobino noted that compared with most places he has storytellers perform, Battle Ground is a smaller, more conservative town. He acknowledged the recent spotlight on LGBTQ issues in the community, and said he hopes the event helps gay, lesbian and transgender youth feel safe and heard.

“I want them to know it can get better,” he said. “The needle is changing.”

Jessica Cole, co-director of the Battle Ground PFLAG chapter, urged Iarrobino to bring the series to Battle Ground after seeing a Vancouver “Our Bold Voices” storytelling event over the summer. Cole, who has been speaking out in favor of more inclusive sexual health education in school, said she was “blown away” by the stories she heard.

“I would like the LGBTQ community to know they’re supported, that there are people here who are their allies,” Cole said. “It’s great to have an event for them, something they can really relate to.”

The organization will host “Coming Out as You,” from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, at Battle Ground High School, 300 W. Main St. Tickets are $5 at the door or online at bit.ly/obv-comingoutasyou. The event isn’t sponsored or endorsed by the school district.

— Katie Gillespie

Of the 1,928 who answered a question about opting their children out of some or all of the lessons, 47.8 percent of participants said they would do so. Of the 2,010 who answered a question about whether the curriculum should include details of how a person’s sexuality and sexual expression can change throughout their life, 34.13 percent of respondents said they don’t want the topic covered at all.

“It’s opening kids to the idea that they can change their sex when they can’t,” said Dawn Seaver, a Vancouver woman concerned about the content of the curriculum. “It’s pushing this notion while kids are still forming their ideas and they’re malleable.”

But Davis said it’s not right that a contingent of parents can decide to exclude her daughter’s identity from the curriculum. And her daughter, 15-year-old Rhys Davis, agrees. Both are speaking at a storytelling event about LGBTQ youth at Battle Ground High School later this month.

Rhys is an active member of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Prairie High School, and said it’s important that her peers have access to accurate sexual health education that reflects their experiences.

“Our community is changing,” Rhys said. “If people aren’t willing to see that, that’s their loss.”

If the curriculum is adopted, it could be taught in high school classrooms as soon as December 2019. Parents will be informed of their right to opt out of some or all of the lessons one month prior.

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