By Jamie Taylor
Seventh in a series
Last Wednesday the Human Growth and Development (HG&D) Committee set up by the MAPS Board of Education to study and recommend changes to the district’s health curriculum finished its review of the PRMS and elementary components.
The bulk of the meeting dealt with approving the overhaul of the health classes taught at Prairie River Middle School and approving slides and videos to be used as resource material there and at Merrill High School classes. The committee also reviewed changes made after the previous meeting to the opt out form that will be mailed to parents of all students taking any part of the curriculum.
The committee viewed the slides that showed the damage caused by various sexual transmitted diseases that were part of the Powerpoint presentation provided by the Lincoln County Health Department that Scott Arneson uses in the MHS health class. The committee had asked the previous week to be able to review these slides to make sure they could not be considered pornographic.
MAPS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Carole Witt Starck said that when she reviewed the slides before the meeting, she was surprised at the damage these diseases can do to genitalia of both sexes. She thought the slides were still useful as they show how much serious damage the diseases can do.
“What the slides showed me was that it could affect all genitalia,” Witt Starck said. “You might find some of these pretty graphic, but these are pretty serious diseases.”
After reviewing the slides, the group debated their merits with input from PRMS health teacher Brian Suchocki. Two members of the committee argued that showing just half of the slides that didn’t show more identifiable genitalia would be just as effective as showing all of them.
“If you had some of these slides without the (labeling of the type of) disease, they could be considered pornographic,” one member said.
Suchocki disagreed, saying “I’ve had some parents tell me they (the slides) are pretty effective with their kids. They aren’t getting any enjoyment out of viewing them.”
Dr. John Sample, MAPS Director of Student Services and Special Education, also asked how the committee could determine which diseases were important enough to warrant inclusion and which could be left out? He said the district would be doing the students a disservice by leaving some out. He also noted that they were viewing just certain slides out of context of an entire classroom presentation.
The committee then voted 11-1 to leave the presentation intact, with one member abstaining from the vote.
The committee then turned its attention to the PRMS component, which Suchocki had previously recommended changing. Due to budget reductions, the PRMS health class was changed from eighth to sixth grade several years ago. Because some information presented in the former class is not considered age appropriate for sixth graders, it is now no longer taught. Suchocki has recommended that a three day session on HG&D be taught to eighth grade students to help them understand the importance of remaining abstinent and the consequences of becoming sexually active.
It had been argued in an earlier meeting that students going from PRMS to their freshman year of high school undergo a very social summer and peer pressure is very strong at that age.
Under the proposed eighth grade class, students would still be separated by sex and taught on the reproductive system of the other sex for the first time on the first day. The two sexes would be together for the second and third days when they would see a different set of slides on STDs as well as other information previously taught by a doctor. On the third day they would be taught about healthy relationships and sexual harassment as well as other information previously taught at that grade level. PRMS counselor Tana Frost said such modern concerns as cyber bullying and other Internet or cell phone related problems would also be addressed on this third day.
The committee also viewed several clips from several videos that he had identified as important to show PRMS students in either sixth or eighth grade and one that might be appropriate for high school students. One was made by students that dealt with STDs, pregnancy and other issues and ended by telling students that it was okay to remain abstinent.
Suchocki pointed out that abstinence is something he repeatedly stresses in his instruction.
The committee approved Suchocki’s set of slides, the video he wished to show his students and a third video “The Miracle of Life.” While the last video, which follows the development of an embryo from before conception to birth, was deemed appropriate to be shown to all grade levels from sixth grade on, it would most likely be used by Arneson, primarily due to its length.
Although the committee was not making any changes at the elementary level, it still reviewed those curriculums.
On the opt out form, which the district is not required by law to provide parents although they do have the right to opt their children out of the material, the committee revisited its decision to not include an opt in provision. A couple members thought having parents send the form back indicating that they were allowing their children to study the material would provide the district as much useful data as the optional request for comments section for those opting out. It would also be a way to spark parent involvement in the discussion of the material with their children.
However, Sample warned that not only would the provision make more work for district employees having to contact parents who did not return the form, it also could possibly leave the district open to a legal challenge of the policy. The Cedarburg School District is currently embroiled in such a suit because it made its policy opt in rather than opt out, among other deviations from state requirements.
“In my opinion, we are getting dangerously close to doing exactly what Cedarburg did,” he said.
On a second vote on the policy, an 11-2 decision reaffirmed the use of an opt out only form.
Now the group will work on drafting its formal recommendation to be sent to the board for action later this month. Once the Board of Education has approved the new curriculum, parents and other community members will have at least 45 days to comment on it before it is taught at any grade level.