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Sex ed curriculum under scrutiny in district

After a review of the Hillsboro School District’s sexuality education curriculum and policy, parents of middle and high school students should expect to get clearer communication about what their students will learn in sex ed classes.

A review of the curriculum by the Citizens Curriculum Advisory Committee earlier this week indicated the need for more effective communication and notification to parents before the curriculum is taught.

Travis Reiman, Hillsboro School District’s director of teaching and learning, will update the Hillsboro School Board Dec. 9 on steps he’ll take to enhance communications to parents surrounding the sexuality education curriculum.

The district’s sex education curriculum came under scrutiny in late October when a first reading of proposed updates to the policy dealing with “Human Sexuality, AIDS/HIV, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Health Education,” was presented to the school board.

At that time, one parent raised concerns about the notification process the district uses to notify parents about the sexuality education portion of health curriculum.

In November, several people spoke at a school board meeting asking the board to reconsider the district’s use of “My Future/My Choice,” an Oregon Department of Human Services curriculum.

Reiman then asked the district’s Citizens Curriculum Advisory Committee to review the district’s existing policy, proposed policy and policy language recommended by the Oregon School Boards Association.

Additionally, curriculum committee members were asked to review the “My Future/My Choice” and consider how it fits with the values of the community they represent.

Part of the “My Future/My Choice” program uses high school students to lead middle school students in lessons about peer and social pressures, postponing sexual involvement and learning assertive techniques to set personal limits.

School board member Erik Seligman questioned using high school students in such a setting.

In a personal blog post, Seligman wrote: “We have age of consent laws regarding sex, and a minimum age for the sale of alcohol.

Since we have agreed as a society to not trust kids of high school age to properly judge these topics … isn’t it somewhat inconsistent to trust them to counsel younger kids on these matters? … Teenagers are very skilled at telling adults what they want to hear, then doing the opposite.”

The current practice to notify parents prior to teaching sex education varies by school, Reiman said. At the fifth- and sixth-grade levels, parents are invited to preview a video the students will see.

At the secondary level, notification to parents is on the syllabus each student gets ­— and theoretically gets signed by a parent — at the beginning of the term.

“We are going to standardize the way parents get notified,” Reiman said, adding that the district is considering mailing a notification letter to parents.

During the committee discussion, members generally agreed the district needs to improve the way it communicates to parents about the curriculum.

“That was confirmed,” Reiman said. “We can get more information to our community” and communicate better about parents’ and students’ rights.

Right to opt out

Parents have the right to opt their student or students out of the human sexuality curriculum, Reiman added.

CCAC chairwoman Lisa Allen said she believes the biggest concern among committee members is that the district should improve communication to parents about the curriculum and about steps to take to opt their child or children out.

“I had some concerns, mostly about the level of communication from the district to the parent,” Allen said. “The district is already working to improve that.”

Reiman said the committee is striving to represent the entire community.

“We wanted to make a good effort to say we are using curriculum that represents our community as a whole,” Reiman said. “It’s a really diverse one.”

Several members of the committee also raised concerns about grouping the curriculum together for grades 6 through 8. Some members indicated it would be best to clarify to parents which concepts will be taught to which grades.

“We will get clearer (in communication to parents) about specifics,” Reiman said.

Allen said she believes the committee review process was thorough and representative of the diversity of the Hillsboro schools community.

“The committee is a good sampling of the community,” Allen said. The CCAC includes four high school students, one recent Hillsboro School District graduate, as well as parents who have students in the district and Allen, who has preschool-age children.

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