With three hours of hard discussion in their second work session last Wednesday, the committee charged with bringing the Merrill Area Public Schools Human Growth and Development (HG&D) curriculum into compliance with a state statute passed in June was able to get three-quarters of the way through approving the changes to the Merrill High School health class.
This class, taught by Scott Arneson to primarily high school sophomores, is where the bulk of the changes will take place that will take the district from its formerly abstinence only sex education model to the comprehensive abstinence based curriculum the law mandates. Arneson had already gone over the previous curriculum he had taught in his class with the committee the previous week, along with suggestions on what additions could be made to bring MAPS into compliance with the new law.
Many of the additions were minor, and could be handled in as little as a couple of sentences while others were more detailed. It was over the later that the committee wrestled most of the meeting. In total, Arneson estimates that everything that has to be covered to be in compliance with the law – which had been spelled out in a letter sent to all school districts by the State School Superintendent’s office – would mean adding between eight and 10 days to that component of his class. Some subjects would better fit into the “flow” of his class in other areas of the syllabus than the “traditional” time the HG&D subject matter is taught, so some juggling of the overall class would have to be done.
Arneson told the committee that while he has always taught about HIV in the class, with other sexually transmitted diseases only briefly discussed, the new requirements will mean more instruction in this area.
“I have no idea how long this would take,” Arneson told the committee. “The HIV component would become part of the STD unit. This is a comprehensive health class with a HG&D component. It is a small part of the overall class.”
As with other portions of his class, he said he uses HIV and other STDs as a way of stressing to students the importance of making good choices in their lives.
Much of the discussion the committee had last Wednesday dealt with the matter of if demonstrations would be allowed and to what extent. While some school districts, for example, have health professionals demonstrate the correct method of placing a condom on an anatomically correct model, the MAPS committee eventually steered away from going that far. It was agreed that some kind of hand out would be provided to students with diagrams that would comply with the law’s requirement to “instruct in the proper use” of condoms.
Arneson himself told the committee he would not feel comfortable using such a model. One member of the committee reminded the rest of the group that while keeping Arneson comfortable with the changes was important, it was also important to keep the wishes of the community in mind as well.
“After all, I think that we are here to represent the community,” he said.
The committee also decided that to keep the concerns of the community to a minimum, it was likely that only Arneson and possibly a nurse from the Lincoln County Health Department would teach the course, at least in the first year. Any outside speakers brought into the class would have to be approved by the School Board in advance. Committee chairman and School Board Vice President Keith Schmelling said this is a position he thinks the board would be willing to support.
“Our biggest concern is with groups, not topics (the speakers deal with),” Schmelling said.
It was this concern over