Monday, January 17, 2022
Jan. 17, 2022

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Battle Ground schools delay changes to sexual education curriculum

By , Columbian staff writer

Call it a pause — for now — on the approval of Battle Ground Public Schools’ new middle school sexual health education curriculum.

In a twist at Monday’s school board meeting, district leaders recommended holding off adopting HealthSmart as the curriculum to teach health and sexual health education to grades 5-8 beginning this school year in favor of taking a look at another option.

Check The Facts, a comprehensive sexual health curriculum developed in California, is now up for consideration and will be reviewed by the same 25-person committee created by the district which recommended HealthSmart last month.

According to Check The Facts’ website, topics the material covers include anatomy, conception and fetal development, gender identity, healthy relationships and sexually transmitted infections.

At its June 28 board meeting, directors narrowly passed the first reading of HealthSmart, 3-2, but not without testimony during public comment both in favor of and against HealthSmart.

Last month, Jennifer Heine-Withee of Washington Parents’ Rights in Education testified she felt the proposed HealthSmart curriculum would be rejected by the Battle Ground community. She advised the district to look at Check The Facts and followed up with district leadership in the weeks following the June meeting.

Allison Tuchardt and Dave Cresap, the district’s directors of curriculum, instruction and assessment, reviewed the new material. Tuchardt said Monday if Check The Facts was available in the spring, she and Cresap believe it would have made the final list for review. At the time, Tuchardt said that the curriculum was still being written.

Aim to be thorough

Now, though, district leadership is willing to take the new material suggested under consideration, alongside the already-recommended HealthSmart.

“We feel it’s better to pause and look at this other program and then make a decision with our committee about next steps than put something in place before we are absolutely sure that we have thoroughly done our jobs with this adoption process,” Tuchardt said.

Superintendent Denny Waters spoke in favor of the pause, which officially received a 5-0 vote by board members to table until a future date. Several committee members who attended the meeting were in favor of looking at the new material when addressed by board director Troy McCoy.

Committee member Blake Bowers said he has a vested interest not only as a parent and Battle Ground community member, but also a physical education teacher at Tukes Valley Middle School who will be teaching whichever material is adopted. He said he’s excited for the opportunity to review the new curriculum.

“Options can change if that information is proven to be fruitful and reviewed, vetted with the same constructs as the other curriculum that we have,” Bowers said.

In November, Washington voters passed Referendum 90 requiring sexual health education for students in grades 4-12 and a social-emotional focus for grades K-3 starting this school year. Schools are required to provide age-appropriate sexual health education at least twice between sixth and eighth grades, and twice again in high school. By 2023, the law requires districts to expand age-appropriate instruction to elementary school grades.

The law also allows districts to choose their curriculum and the flexibility for when sexual health is first taught. Battle Ground is opting to begin its curriculum once students reach middle school; BGPS’ middle schools serve grades 5-8.

In the spring, the district formed a middle school sexual health education advisory committee made up of district leaders, parents and other community members. The committee met several times over a 10-week span to review four separate curricula that must meet state requirements. According to last month’s presentation to the board, HealthSmart has a standard health unit for fifth grade, and health and sexual health units for sixth through eighth grades.

Tuchardt added it’s not an “open invitation” to review curriculum beyond Check The Facts, but committee members will use the same process they did in the spring to determine what proposed curriculum to recommend for board approval.