Let’s get a little awkward, shall we, and discuss the birds and the bees. At least, the teaching of the birds and the bees, which has become a little more cumbersome since the passage of the Alaska Safe School Act. HB 156 went into effect in 2017 and requires school boards to review and approve outside presenters and materials used to teach sex ed, and grants parents the ability to opt their student out of any curriculum area or assessment.
Not all outside presenters and materials have to be approved by the school board. Historians, scientists, poets and so on, are still fine, only those teaching human reproduction. HB 156 had a controversial path into law. Some saw it as an attempt to limit sex ed, in a state where rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies rank among the highest in the nation. Others argued the additional scrutiny was a way to raise awareness and get parents and communities more involved in curriculum.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s school board had its yearly review of supplemental sex ed materials at its Aug. 6 meeting.
Some of it caused a little heartburn. Board member Jason Tauriainen objected to materials presented by Planned Parenthood that used colorful pen illustrations to depict reproductive systems.
“I just feel that some of the materials is not appropriate for what we want to do in the schools and I would like to have that reworked, if they want to bring it back and have something that doesn’t treat the matter quite as lightly and the diagrams are more professional,” Tauriainen said.
Board member Tim Navarre advocated approval, saying schools should have a variety of materials from which to choose.
“As you can imagine out there in the public with some parents they have some concerns with how human reproduction or those lessons are taught but I think this is a good tool and let the appropriate education teacher determine which is best for theirs to move forward on,” Navarre said.
The materials were approved and become options to be used in the district’s overall human reproduction curriculum.
Sex ed is part of the district’s larger health curriculum, the bulk of which is selected by the district’s Health Curriculum Committee based on state and federal standards. Units on human reproduction are delivered in middle and high school, often utilizing partners in the community who are recognized experts in the field. In the central peninsula, that’s the LeeShore Center and Planned Parenthood, and in Homer it’s the Rec Room. Here’s Pegge Erkeneff, district communications specialist:
“We’ve got who the experts are to deliver the content, which is often in any different subject why sometimes there’s guest presenters that come in. So in this case, in delivering the content so it’s age appropriate and it engages the students, we’re bringing in people that this is what they do and they’ve been trained in it and then the resources are approved by the school board,” Erkeneff said.
If parents are curious or concerned about the sex ed curriculum, they can request to review all curriculum materials by contacting their student’s school. They can also fill out an opt-out form if they don’t want their student to receive any or parts of the material. This actually goes for any element of the curriculum, per HB 156. A student could be opted out of algebra or Greek philosophy if a parent so chooses. But, Erkeneff says, there needs to be a discussion with the school.
“For parents that have questions they should talk to their specific school principal or teacher so they understand what they’re opting out of, and then what are consequences? So if you’re going to opt out of algebra, well then you might not be passing algebra, which you might need credits for to graduate. I think every student is individual and every family is individual and our administrators are really good about working with what a family and a student needs and what the parent wants,” Erkeneff said.
Melissa Linton is the curriculum coordinator for the district. She says she hopes that if parents want to shield their student from certain elements of the human reproduction curriculum that they not opt out of the health curriculum as a whole.
“Our health curriculum is extremely comprehensive. We talk about healthy environments and allergies and hygiene and washing your hands and body systems and how your brain works and other things that are so important to kids and building report with them and just making sure they’re healthy, and their wellness important to us,” Linton said.
An overview of the district’s curriculum can be found on the district’s website by clicking the Departments tab and selecting Curriculum.