By Susan Bromley
-A plan has been conceived for sex education in the district which would emphasize abstinence to students, while also teaching about contraceptives.
During a May 15 special meeting Kristy Spann, executive director of educational services, presented a recommendation from an advisory council convened earlier this year for the purpose of determining what should be taught regarding sex education in the district, which is currently the sole abstinence-only district in the county.
The unanimous recommendation from the sex education advisory council, which will be voted on by the school board next month, was that the district should become “abstinence-based,” meaning that instruction regarding sex education would stress that abstinence is the only way to 100 percent prevent pregnancy as well as avoid sexually transmitted infections, but also would include lessons about contraceptives.
“We have a diverse committee of people who represent different perspectives, along with survey data from the community and research consistently shows that an abstinence-based program is more effective than abstinence-only in delaying the age when people start having sex,” said Spann. “It’s more effective in changing the behavior of those who have already started, and also in reducing pregnancies, STIs and the number of partners a person has. It only makes sense that we implement a program that research tells us is most effective at doing that. It really goes to the fact that knowledge is power.”
In January the school board approved formation of a 14-member sex education advisory council consisting of Spann, Athletic Director Chris Deines, a clergy member, public health nurse, three students, five parents, and two teachers to study whether the curriculum should remain abstinence-only or change to abstinence-based.
The district used a survey crafted by the state of Michigan to assist districts and queried parents beginning in February, asking at what grade level various health topics should be taught, if at all.
Spann said 182 responses to the survey were returned, with 94 percent of respondents expressing they wanted the district to provide education about sex. Results from those surveys include 66 percent of respondents advocating that risk reduction (contraceptives) be taught beginning in middle school (6th through 8th grades). Only 5 percent responded that risk reduction should not be taught at all, while 22 percent said it should be taught in ninth through 12th grades, and 6.5 percent supported it being taught in elementary school.
The sex education advisory council is recommending puberty education in the fourth and fifth grades using a curriculum called “Puberty: The Wonder Years.” In this curriculum, students would learn about the changes happening to their bodies. Fourth grade lessons include “A climate for growth,” “Families and roles,” “New life,” “Changes in the skin,” “Growing up male,” and “Growing up female.” Fifth grade lessons would be “Read, set, grow,” “Puberty and the male reproductive system,” “Puberty and the female reproductive system,” “Reproduction,” “Personal hygiene,” “Social and emotional changes” and “Media messages.”
The district, if it heeds the sex ed advisory council’s recommendations to change to abstinence-based, would continue to use the Michigan Model for Health at the middle school and high school, but would add lessons.
At the middle school level this would mean a lesson titled, “Someday but not now,” which describes the potential negative consequences of having sexual intercourse and ways to reduce risk including abstinence and condom use. Middle school students are not taught how to use condoms.
At the high school level, a change to abstinence-based would add three lessons to the current health curriculum for a total of 22 lessons. The new instruction would include one lesson on condom use and two lessons on how to prevent pregnancy.
During the May 15 special meeting, Spann said high school lessons could include modeling how to use a condom, via fruits and vegetables.
Spann added that the board could adopt the abstinence-based curriculum while not using the recommendation to model how to use condoms.
Board Secretary Diane Salter expressed some hesitation about including lessons that modeled condom use, noting that while parents still retain the option to excuse their students from any lessons they deem objectionable, that would defeat the purpose.
Another public hearing is planned regarding sex education for 6:30 p.m., June 12, at ITEC, 609 S. Ortonville Road.
The board will vote on the recommendations to offer puberty education at the elementary level and abstinence-based curriculum in the middle school and high school a week later at the regular board meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m., June 19, also at ITEC.