Spokane school administrators have delayed making a divisive decision on a sex education curriculum.
The Spokane Public Schools board was scheduled to vote today on adopting a new middle school sex education curriculum that was partially developed by Planned Parenthood. The curriculum would have replaced the current human growth and development course.
However, on Monday morning one of the 15 members of the Human Growth and Development Citizen Advisory Committee withdrew support.
The move prompted district administrators to postpone presenting the curriculum to board members, said Superintendent Shelley Redinger.
“It just needs more vetting,” she said.
One of the curriculum’s stated goals is to promote discussion about sex and sexuality in an effort to “delay sex among middle school students.” The curriculum also teaches about LGBTQ issues and terminology. It fulfills Washington state sex education requirements.
In addition to the member who rescinded his vote, two other members were not present for the vote on the curriculum, said John Repsold, the pastor of Mosaic Fellowship. Repsold, who was not present for the original vote, is not in favor of the curriculum and plans to vote against it.
However, delaying likely won’t change the ultimate outcome, he said. Repsold estimates that only three of the 15 members will vote against recommending the implementation of the new curriculum.
Instead, Repsold believes delaying may have been a tactic to “to assuage a little bit of angst that’s in the community about this,” he said.
“I’m not quite sure what they’re trying to accomplish other than getting a little more time, a little more input,” he said.
District spokesman Kevin Morrison said it’s not unusual for agenda items to be removed or changed prior to board meetings.
“We just want to make sure everybody is on board to look through it and understand it,” Morrison said.
According to Washington state law parents must be notified one month prior to any lessons dealing with sex education. Additionally, parents and students may opt out of sex education classes, or sections of classes dealing with sex education.
In a Facebook event the Spokane County Republican Party urged people to attend Wednesday’s board meeting prior to the item’s removal.
“If this curriculum is adopted, it will confuse countless children in our city, alienate many people of faith in our district, and require that teachers with religious convictions about male-female roles and differences either violate their convictions, not take district jobs or possibly lose their jobs for not teaching this material,” according to the event description.
Nikki Lockwood, a parent of two children in the Spokane Public Schools district and a member of the advisory committee, said the curriculum gives medically accurate information that is in compliance with state law. Lockwood said she especially appreciated that the curriculum explicitly encourages families to talk about their values.
Still, there are concerns. Stephanie Cates, the chairwoman for the county Republican Party, said one of her main concerns is Planned Parenthood’s involvement. By adopting the curriculum the district would be endorsing Planned Parenthood, which might cause children to “see them maybe as a good source of information,” she said.
“So, it’s good to maybe put the brakes on a little bit and maybe see if there are other options,” Cates said.
The Human Growth And Development Citizen Advisory Committee is made up of 15 people, including representatives from Life Services of Spokane, Spokane Regional Health District, Planned Parenthood, Project SIX19 and Catholic Charities as well as private citizens.
The committee meets between four and six times per year and makes recommendations to Spokane Public Schools’ instructional program department.
Morrison said the committee viewed 14 different curricula, finally narrowing it down to the “Get Real” program, which fulfilled state requirements. When the committee meets next, likely in the fall, it will re-examine the “Get Real” program.
However, Repsold said the committee was only presented with three different curriculum options. He didn’t approve of any of them.
Repsold has several primary complaints with the “Get Real” curriculum. First, he said, it removes local control of sex education. Additionally, he said the curriculum states that gender is different from biological sex.
“That doesn’t reflect accurately what our community believes,” Repsold said.
He’s also concerned by what he calls a conflict of interest.
“The organization (Planned Parenthood) who makes this material stands to benefit when young people are sexually active and when they need abortions,” he said.
The curriculum was first developed by the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and published by the behavioral health nonprofit Education, Training and Research.
According to a 2014 study in 24 Boston-area schools where the curriculum was taught for three years, 16 percent fewer boys and 15 percent fewer girls had sex by the end of the eighth grade compared to boys and girls at schools without the curriculum. In all there were 2,453 students who participated in the evaluations.
However, one conservative group questioned the validity of the study, noting that the study doesn’t give detailed information about what sex education courses were being taught in place of the “Get Real” curriculum, and claimed there were issues in accurately tracking the students over the three years.
Although the curriculum won’t be voted on by the board Wednesday, community members can still address the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Cates said there is a bigger takeaway for county Republicans: the political importance of the school board.
“It woke some people up to the fact that, ‘Hey, these are big decisions,’” Cates said. “There are elections this year. I’m sure this will all play into that.”