Comprehensive sexual health education is making its way to Battle Ground high schools — but only as an option.
The Battle Ground Public Schools Board of Directors on Monday approved a version of its high school health class that will include comprehensive sexual health education. The board voted 4 to 1 to create the new class, with Tina Lambert casting the only no vote.
The health class is an elective, but it meets the state requirements for one semester of health, effectively giving high school students a choice between courses: one with comprehensive sexual health education, the other without.
Sexual health education has been the issue that refuses to die for the district, where administrators have spent more than a year drafting curriculum and tweaking policy around what to teach students.
The school board did an about-face last year, first eliminating the district requirement that sex education be taught, except for fifth-grade lessons on puberty and human development. Then, in response to teachers who said they were having to strip lessons out of their curriculum, the board added an exemption for elective classes.
According to a course description, the new health class would include the sexual health education curriculum developed by the district as well as lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation, birth control methods (including abstinence), sexually transmitted diseases and consent.
The issue has generated controversy and heated debate in the school district. Critics of the curriculum have accused the district of pushing an “LGBTQ agenda,” teaching children explicitly how to have sex and interfering with family values.
Those who support the curriculum — particularly the parents of LGBTQ students — say it may help marginalized students feel more included and respected in their school environment.
Research shows that students who have access to comprehensive sexual health education have better health outcomes than their peers.
A 2011 study by the University of Georgia found that abstinence-only education “is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.” A 2012 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that increased sexual health education correlates with lower adolescent birthrates. That study does note, however, that more religiously and politically conservatives states have higher adolescent birthrates, regardless of the sexual health education programs in schools.
Washington is one of 21 states that do not mandate sex education, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Schools are only required to provide information about HIV and AIDS prevention beginning in fifth grade. Under the Healthy Youth Act, school districts that choose to provide sexual health education must provide lessons that are considered medically and scientifically accurate, age appropriate and inclusive. Districts must also provide information about abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
Parents can opt their children out of sexual health classes. Battle Ground Public Schools notes in its newest course description that students who participate in the elective are opting in to all content. Families who do not want their child to receive sexual health education should choose the general education health course.