Wednesday, August 4, 2021
Aug. 4, 2021

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B.G. school board advances middle school sex ed curriculum

First reading at school board meeting draws praise, concerns from residents

By , Columbian staff writer

Battle Ground Public Schools’ new middle school sexual health education curriculum took a step closer to being approved following Monday night’s vote to move the curriculum along to a second reading next month.

The Battle Ground School Board voted 3-2 to send the proposed curriculum to a second reading July 26.

Directors Mary Snitily and Rob Henrickson voted “no” following a lengthy discussion that dominated Monday’s regular board meeting.

In November, Washington voters passed Referendum 90 requiring education in comprehensive sexual health for grades 4-12 and a social-emotional focus for grades K-3 in all public schools beginning in 2021-22.

Schools must provide age-appropriate sexual health education at least twice between sixth and eighth grades, and twice again during high school. By 2023, the law requires districts to expand age-appropriate instruction to elementary school grades.

With the new law, school districts still have the opportunity to choose their own curriculum — and have flexibility for when sexual health is first taught. Battle Ground is opting to begin its curriculum once students reach fifth grade, according to the district. Currently, Battle Ground schools teach human growth and development to fifth-graders.

The district formed a 25-person Middle School Sexual Health Advisory Committee made up of staff, parents and community members to help determine the curriculum that will be taught districtwide in middle schools, grades five through eight.

On Monday, Allison Tuchardt and Dave Cresap, the district’s directors of curriculum, instruction and assessment, presented to the board the committee’s recommendation of HealthSmart as the proposed material to use for teaching health and sexual health at the middle school level. HealthSmart was the top choice of the committee based on four curricula reviewed by members during a 10-week span.

Should HealthSmart be approved by the board in July, the materials will be used in all Battle Ground middle schools starting in the fall. Parents or guardians may opt children out of all sexual health instruction or individual units.

COVID-19 restrictions limited room capacity during Monday’s board meeting, but several people were in attendance to make one final push for or against the proposed curriculum. The majority who spoke during citizens’ comments were in favor of the curriculum for a variety of reasons, including inclusivity, medical and scientific accuracy, and consent education.

Jeanne Vollmer, a primary teacher in the district, said it was a “no-brainer” to adopt the curriculum, particularly because it gives families the choice to opt their children out of full lessons or individual units.

Community member Laurie Schacht said it’s important students receive accurate information, and she believes the proposed curriculum meets those standards.

“Information is power and correct and accurate information is critical,” Schacht said. “The more age-appropriate information we can give kids — think about that — the more we can strengthen them to be strong teens, adolescents and adults.”

Others who spoke Monday were in favor of alternative options. Parent Jennifer Heine-Withee testified she doesn’t believe HealthSmart is right for the Battle Ground community, and said it will be rejected by many in the district. She suggested material used in California.

Snitily, a retired educator, said she believes the proposed curriculum for Battle Ground “needs some work,” and her question of where the community comes into the conversation drew a reaction from the audience.

“For me to feel comfortable, I feel like we need to have more conversation in two ways in terms of looking deeper,” she said.

Director Jackie Maddux said she hasn’t spoken to anyone opposed to the curriculum, but rather,  “they just want the right curriculum,” Maddux said.

“It’s important that somehow, we just be mindful we need to incorporate that and partner with our parents and now cause a divide,” she added.