EAST WENATCHEE — The Eastmont School Board last week received a first look at a new sexual health curriculum put together over the past four months by a group of staff members with input from parents. The topic is controversial because some argue sexual health should not be taught to young children.
School districts around the state are putting together sexual health curriculum in response to Senate Bill 5396, which passed the Legislature and Washington voters in 2020, and took effect Dec. 3, 2020. It requires all public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education by the 2022–23 school year.
The school district must have comprehensive sexual education and follow the guidelines from the state Department of Health and K-12 health standards, said Matt Charlton, executive director of secondary education.
“It also requires that instructional materials are either chosen from a list provided by OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) that they have reviewed or you chose a locally developed curriculum which is selected using an analysis tool from OSPI,” Charlton said.
The law requires electronic access for parents to all the materials and information to be provided and a process for parents to opt out.
Also, the law requires the school district to share instruction materials with OSPI and demonstrate how those materials are aligned to the legislative requirements.
“In our procedure, in K-4, we will only teach social-emotional learning in those grade levels. In grade five and twice in grades 6-8 and twice in grade 10-12, we’re required to have sexual health education,” Charlton said.
Charlton said he knows of no other topic with potential to be as controversial as sexual health education.
“We know there are legitimate concerns surrounding this topic as well as some misinformation out there. Hopefully we can bring some clarity to this topic,” he said.
The recommendation to the board is the culmination of four months work by an 18-person committee from across the district. Parent feedback was also part of the process. On two different nights, Charlton said they had about 30 parents attend meetings and give feedback on the draft document.
Charlton said the committee really listened and made adjustments based on the feedback.
“We believe as a committee of educators that parents are the most important teachers of sexual health.” said Spencer Taylor, Eastmont executive director of elementary education. “We respect the rights of parents to know what is being taught and when it is being taught. And to have the ability to opt their child out and to get more information to follow up at home.”
Taylor said the committee also wants to be very transparent. All the resources will be online once the school board approves. Parents can see this information anytime, Taylor said.
The committee also wanted to make sure to meet the requirements of the legislation.
“We wanted to make sure it was developmentally appropriate for our students. The committee decided and the parent advisory group affirmed we would have no sexual health education in grades K-4,” Taylor said.
Charlton said the school district must give parents at least 30 days advance notice of when instruction would occur and to provide a real clear way to opt their child out. A parent could opt their child out of a specific part of the instruction or all of it.
Taylor said the committee decided early to focus on those standards most important for students to know and what would be reflective of the values in the community.