By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- Lessons on contraceptive use will be included in sex education classes in the district.
The board of education voted 4-3 at their July 17 meeting to approve abstinence-based sex education recommended by an advisory council that studied the issue earlier this year. Board President Kevin McClellan, Vice-President Lisa Kavalhuna, Treasurer Deb Brady and Trustee Marianne Dwyer voted in favor of the change from abstinence-only. Secretary Diane Salter and trustees John Chartier and Bob Eisiminger voted against the change.
Prior to the vote, Salter explained that a no vote would not mean that she was opposed to abstinence-based education, but that she had concerns about specific lessons within the curriculum, particularly with the modeling of how to use contraceptives, specifically, condoms.
In a special meeting directly preceding the regular board meeting, Salter also expressed doubts about the wisdom of instructing students about the use of contraceptives who aren’t legally of age to engage in sex. She noted that teachers, as mandated reporters, would be obligated to contact police or Child Protective Services if a student under the age of 16 were to admit they were having sex. Salter also made suggestions for alterations to the curriculum that would make abstinence-based education acceptable to her, with more stress on communicating with parents sooner in the lessons, and eliminating actual modeling of condoms, with limiting lessons on contraceptives to discussion only.
Chartier voiced complete opposition to the district teaching anything other than abstinence-only.
“(Abstinence-based) endorses underage sexual relations to our students,” he said. “It infringes on parents.”
Many supporters (of abstinence-based education) are worried about others’ children, not their own. The entire proposal is worried about others (parents) not teaching (their children) the way they want. You can opt out, but that places an unfair stigma.”
Chartier also called the modeling of contraceptives “too extreme.”
Brady was firm in her support for abstinence-based education to be administered as recommended by a sex education advisory council who studied the issue earlier this year.
“Children need to learn this whether at home or at school,” said Brady, who added that parents don’t always talk about sex to their kids. “We put a committee together to decide this… Who are we to say they’re wrong and we’re right?”
In January the school board approved formation of a 14-member sex education advisory council consisting of Executive Director of Educational Services Kristy 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 question first arose after parents last fall questioned why their students were not receiving puberty education, which prompted an overall review of health curriculum.
In February, a survey crafted by the state of Michigan to assist districts queried parents, 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 surveys included 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.
Using survey results, as well as their own research on sex education and studies that conclude abstinence-based sex education is the best way to effectively reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections and disease, the council returned a recommendation to change the district from abstinence-only to abstinence-based, continuing to use the Michigan Model for Health Curriculum, but adding a lesson on contraceptives in the middle school health class 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, the change to abstinence-based adds three lessons to the current health curriculum, including one lesson on condom use, which covers possible legal consequences of sex, behaviors that are high risk for pregnancy or transmission of infection, ways to reduce those risks, identification of barriers to condom use and the reasons given for not using condoms; suggestions for reducing the barriers to condom us and refutal of reasons for not using condoms; and applying steps for condom use as a risk reduction strategy. Additionally, there are two lessons on how to prevent pregnancy, including resons to postpone/prevent pregnancy; descriptions of parents’ responsibilities to children born in and out of wedlock; identification of current contraceptive methods to reduce risk of pregnancy; identification of places to access contraceptive information, products and services; comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of current contraceptive methods; and identification of what method of preventing pregnancy, including abstinence, might work best for individual circumstances now and in the future.
McClellan supported the recommendations as given, noting the curriculum was developed by the state with input from parents and teachers statewide. As members of the district’s board of education, he added, “We’re not educators and shouldn’t be involved in curriculum development. We are policymakers. We should accept or decline the committee recommendation. Adjusting the lesson is not for us to do.”
Parents in the district who spoke up on behalf of abstinence-based education included Tina Ayala, who asked the board, “Do you want to work for all the kids, down to the last 55 kids in Kindergarten through sixth grade (who will be or have been sexually abused)? Justify not teaching them (sex education) when they are busy trying to destroy their lives. They need these conversations.”
Sara DeLauder, who served on the sex education advisory council, said the role of public schools is to educate and there are no boundaries on what that education includes. She also pointed out that parents who don’t want their children educated in school about sex can opt their students out.
“My daughter is going to seventh grade without puberty education— someone failed my daughter,” she said. “An entire middle school is not educated on it… I was on the (sex education advisory council) and we researched and came up with this proposal. If we’re not educating our kids, we’re doing a great disservice.”
In the split vote, students will now get the abstinence-based education the advisory council recommended. Elementary students will also receive puberty education, through a curriculum called “The Wonder Years.” The board unanimously supported the curriculum for fourth and fifth graders in which they learn about the changes happening to their bodies.
By Susan Bromley