• Must Clicks

School districts update sex ed curriculum to meet new state law

Camas will teach affirmative consent, bystander training; Washougal adopts FLASH curriculum

The Camas School District is in the process of updating its sexual education curriculum to comply with a new state law requiring all Washington public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education by the 2022-23 school year.

Camas Assistant Superintendent Lisa Greseth told Camas School Board members in late April that research behind a new sexual education law passed by Washington state legislators in 2020 — the Healthy Youth Act, which requires public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education by the 2022-23 school year — shows that offering students “accurate, complete, developmentally appropriate information on sexuality, including risk-reduction strategies and (information about) contraceptives, helps young people take steps to protect their health, delaying sex, using contraception and being monogamous.”

Greseth said the district allows parents the right to opt their child out of any or all sexual education lessons.

“Parents can opt students out of a single lesson, a group of lessons or an entire unit,” Greseth told school board members during their April 25 meeting.

Camas also has a policy of notifying families 30 days in advance of their student receiving sexual health education lessons. Parents and guardians are able to preview the materials and opt their student out of the lesson or unit, Greseth said.

Although the Camas School District has offered sexual education lessons on puberty and HIV/AIDS beginning in fifth grade for decades, the new state law requires districts to expand sexual education lessons starting in at least fifth grade to include affirmative consent and bystander training.

Greseth said affirmative consent is “an approach to giving and receiving consent for any activity that includes clear voluntary, enthusiastic permission.”

“It is not just the absence of ‘no,'” Greseth said, adding in the presentation to the school board that affirmative consent “in earlier grades, might focus on hugs or horseplay and in older grades on exchanging photos or romantic or sexual contact.”

Bystander training teaches students how to “safely intervene when they see bullying, sexual harassment or unwanted sexual activity” taking place, Greseth said, adding that the new curriculum “is teaching how to establish boundaries and know how to communicate those boundaries — and how to listen for them — to keep yourself and others safe.”

Greseth added that state and local data suggests issues around affirmative consent and bystander training were necessary components of comprehensive sexual health education for Washington and Camas students.

“We know data at the state level suggested this was a problem,” Greseth said.

According to the Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state’s 2018 Healthy Youth Survey given to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, results showed 12.3% of eighth-graders, 18.9% of 10th-graders and 25.2% of 12th-graders said they “had been forced into kissing, sexual touch or intercourse when they did not want to.”

Greseth said many people want to know how these numbers relate to Camas students.

“We always get the question, ‘Well, what about here?'” Greseth said. “We know from survey results from 2021 … that (Camas rates) are lower than the state, which is great, but still follow that trajectory, that increase (with older students reporting more forced kissing, sexual touch or intercourse).”

According to the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey:

  • 5.4% of Camas eighth-graders, 14.9% of Camas 10th-graders and 21.6% of Camas 12th-graders reported unwanted kissing, sexual touch or intercourse; and
  • 13.3% of Camas eighth-graders, 24.5% of Camas 10th-graders and 32.5% of Camas 12th-graders said they had seen someone their age pressure someone else to kiss, touch or have sex with them when that other person didn’t want to.

“So we’re working up to nearly a third of students who had seen a peer experience that type of (unwanted sexual attention),” Greseth said.

The school district reached out to its Citizens Advisory Committee to better gauge the school district’s thoughts on sexual education and new sexual education curriculum.

Greseth said the committee told school district leaders in February that they should:

  • Continue to support parents and families with clear communication and resources around what will be taught to students;
  • Partner with families and parents with resources on how to talk to children about sex;
  • Respect and include LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual/agender) students and families;
  • Focus on students feeling safe and having their questions answered;
  • Be sensitive to trauma;
  • Emphasize the importance of consent; and
  • Pay attention to consistency in implementation and teaching.

So how will the new state law alter sexual education lessons at Camas schools? Greseth said the district will expand its curriculum in fifth, sixth and seventh grade classrooms to include affirmative consent and bystander training; will include affirmative consent and bystander training units at the high school level; and will add a new unit using a curriculum known as “CIRCLES,” which discusses levels of boundaries and relationships — from strangers and acquaintances to close friends, family and romantic partners — for high school students who have significant cognitive disabilities.

The new fifth grade sexual education would include five units presented over a five-day period — with sexual education being taught during the day, not during all-day sessions — and would cover anatomy and physiology on the first day, growth and development (puberty) on the second day, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention on the third day, respectful behavior on the fourth day and healthy/unhealthy relationships (friendships), affirmative consent and bystander training, sexual abuse and unwanted touch on the fifth day.

The high school training will not be a separate course or another credit requirement, Greseth noted, but rather an additional unit of sexual health education planned to be presented to 11th-graders and students with special needs.

Greseth said the school district is implementing best-practice research on sexual health education, which has shown it is more beneficial to students to have non-gendered sex ed classes that use gender-inclusive language.

“It is best practice to not do single gender (sex ed classes),” Greseth said. “It begins to break down the shame and secrecy around bodies, particularly as students are learning, and makes sure every student is … learning about the ways in which all bodies go through puberty.”

Greseth said they have heard concerns from community members and parents that students may feel uncomfortable asking questions in a mixed-gender group, but assured school board members that teachers “routinely use practices that bring anonymity to questions,” giving the example of a teacher who might ask all students to write something on an index card. Some of the students may choose to ask questions about sexual health. Others may not. But, because they’ve all written something, no one knows who is asking the questions.

Hayes Freedom High School teacher Mark Gardner told the school board in April that his team had come up with three specific lessons for high school students based on what the new state law requires. These new lessons will include setting boundaries — not just for romantic relationships — understanding what constitutes a healthy versus an unhealthy relationship and, as in the lower grades, more training on affirmative consent and bystander training.

“We want all students to recognize that they have the right to healthy relationships regardless of gender,” Gardner said. “And we want them to know how to help a friend who might be experiencing abuse, including who to guide that student to within the school system and the community.”

High school students have been asking for more clarity on how to intervene when they see an unhealthy relationship happening in their inner CIRCLES, Gardner said. “Based on feedback from our 11th-graders … they wanted to really emphasize not so much the anatomy and physiology but looking at broader relationship skills that aren’t always taught.”

Darcy Jones, the dean of students at Camas High School, added that Camas High educators will be “confirming and reinforcing the idea of teaching consent and understanding that there is affirmative consent … and the importance of creating that environment around consent.”

Jones added that the new sexual health education curriculum all include abstinence as an option for high school students.

“We want to create an environment where students feel safe asking questions,” Gardner said.

Sexual health educators in Camas will receive values protocol training, Gardner added, to help students understand where they can turn to help answer the type of value-laden questions — “What is the best age to have sex?” for example — that teachers cannot answer.

“We validate the student for asking the question, no matter what,” Gardner said, “and it is so important that they are willing to ask these types of questions. There is a misconception that teachers are just answering questions willy nilly … but we label (certain questions) as value-based questions and tell students, ‘We want you to get answers based on your family’s values.’ If we don’t know an answer, we will encourage students to connect with their family physician or school nurse.”

The only exception, Gardner said, is when a value is shared by a majority of society.

“We call these values ‘universal,'” Gardner said. “For example, the majority of society agree it is never OK to force someone to have sex.”

The school board on April 25 approved the new sexual health curriculum, including the CIRCLES lessons for students with cognitive disabilities. Now, Camas school staff will begin to determine how and where the new lessons will be integrated into various school buildings for fifth-, sixth-, seventh-graders and high school students and will finalize lesson designs before presented the material to parents and families within 30 days for review and the possibility of opting students out of any or all of the material.

For more information, visit go.boarddocs.com/wa/camas/Board.nsf/Public and click on the meeting agenda for the April 25 school board meeting, where a video and materials related to the April 25 sexual health and CIRCLES curriculum presentations are available.

 

Washougal to offer sexual health education beginning in fifth grade

Washougal School District educators will teach sexual health to middle-school students for the first time later this year.

The Washougal School Board voted unanimously on April 26, to adopt the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum for fifth-graders and middle school students.

As mandated by state law, the district will introduce the sexual health education platform to students in grades six through eight later this spring and fifth-graders in the 2022-23 school year. The district currently provides sexual health education to its high school students via the FLASH curriculum.

“The state has (given us a set of) standards, and we have to meet those standards. The instructional materials are a vehicle for us to do so,” Superintendent Mary Templeton said during the meeting. “(The curriculum that we choose) does have to be scientifically accurate. We are going to rely on those who have reviewed the materials, who are scientifically positioned to do so, to tell us what would be included in comprehensive (sexual health education). I am not a legislator, but I am a superintendent who’s been tasked to follow the law, and the law asks for an inclusive comprehensive sexual education program that does meet those standards.”

In 2020, the Washington State Legislature passed Senate Bill 5395, which updated the state’s Healthy Youth Act by requiring public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to all students by the 2022-23 school year. Senate Bill 5395 went into effect on Dec. 3, 2020, after being upheld by Washington voters in the 2020 general election.

“Prior to this bill passing, districts decided whether or not they would offer comprehensive sexual health education,” assistant superintendent Renae McMurray said during the meeting. “This bill requires public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education to students starting in fourth or fifth grade. We’ve decided in the Washougal School District that we will start that instruction in the fifth grade. Fourth-graders will receive the instruction that they receive currently: puberty lessons provided by a nurse.”

The district held four informational meetings earlier this year to allow parents to review the sexhal health education platforms it was considering to propose for adoption.

“The feedback received indicated an overwhelming preference for the Family Life and Sexual Health materials,” McMurray told the Post-Record. “The input received from parents weighed heavily in the (district’s) selection commttee’s decision to recommend Family Life and Sexual Health for adoption. The selection committee and parents who reviewed the materials both appreciated the family homework included with each FLASH lesson that provides an opportunity for families to teach their values and beliefs.”

FLASH is a sexual health education curriculum developed by Public Health-Seattle & King County, designed to prevent teen pregnancy, sexually trasmitted diseases and sexual violence, and to increase knowledge about the reproductive system and puberty, according to King County’s website. It has been approved by the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Washington State Department of Health’s sexual health education instructional materials review panel.

Parents can opt their child out of some or all of the curriculum, McMurray told the board members.

“Thirty days before the instruction (begins), we reach out to all parents who (have children who) are in those classes and send them information and make sure they have a chance to review materials,” she told the board members. “We’re working right now with OSPI and with FLASH to provide online access to make sure families have easy access to materials, and they’ll be able to send us a written note if they want to opt out.”

After McMurray reviewed the materials with the board, board member Chuck Carpenter introduced a motion to table the proposed adoption and give the district’s instructional materials committee “an opportunity to address the issues that we have received the emails about, make a determination and come back to us with a recommended curriculum without those portions that the committee would find as objectionable as we do.”

“I’m a firm believer in comprehensive sexual education for kids. A firm believer,” he said. “However, I’ve gotten some emails quoting portions of the FLASH curriculum that are pretty disturbing. I don’t believe, in my value system, that we should bring up the topics of oral and anal sex with seventh graders.”

Carpenter and Sadie McKenzie voted in favor of tabling the adoption, but the other three board members — Cory Chase, Angela Hancock and Jim Cooper — voted against, arguing that they’d already had plenty of time to review the materials and make a decision, and that delaying the adoption could cause the district to miss its state-mandated mid-May deadline to do so.

“If this was January, I would’ve supported Chuck’s motion,” Cooper said, “but I don’t think we have time to table it without meeting the legal requirements for the middle school kids.”

Some community members agreed with Carpenter, telling the board members that middle-school children shouldn’t be taught about certain forms of sexual activity.

“I do understand the need to teach about basic anatomy and biology at an age-appropriate time. But the FLASH materials go way beyond anatomy, biology and how sperm fertilizes an egg,” Washougal resident Dean Hiebert said. “It goes into specific details regarding vaginal, anal and oral sex. In fact, it groups those three things together many, many times throughout, which would equate them and normalize them. It tells fifth-through-eighth graders that they are allowed to and have the right to any sexual pleasure — vaginal, anal, oral — and personal and ritual masturbation. It discusses in detail that these kids can masturbate, what it is and how to do it. Why would you ever think that’s appropriate to tell an 11-year-old?”

Several others voiced their support for the curriculum, pointing to its emphasis on equipping children “with the knowledge and skills to reject stereotypes, support equality and combat sexual harassment,” according to former Washougal School Board member Donna Sinclair.

“We live in a different world today,” Washougal resident Virginia Frederick said. “This is not a bad thing — it’s just a different thing. I fully support that our schools are bringing sex education into the 21st century. The facts are that children’s bodies mature earlier than when I was a teen. Menstruation may start in elementary school. Our kids know of families that may only have one parent or two moms, and have friends with siblings who are transgender. It’s not just in the movies or on television. It’s part of our neighborhoods, part of our schools.”

Hancock agreed with Frederick.

“When my daughter was in sixth grade, I ‘opted’ her out of having a cell phone. That did not stop (her from receiving) information from her friends who were sharing it on their phones. And the things that she had learned — I was horrified. Absolutely horrified,” she said. “And I realized at that point, ‘This is the world that we’re living in. I can try to shelter them (or embrace it).’ That’s why I think it’s so important to have information other than TikTok (videos) or whatever else is being sent around to kids, and have something that is actually factual and that your family can be comfortable with.”

The FLASH middle-school curriculum contains seven lesson plans, titled “Reproductive System and Pregnacy,” “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” “Rules of Dating,” “Saying ‘No,’” “Preventing STDs,” “Condoms to Prevent HIV and other STDs” and “Birth Control Methods.”

“We wouldn’t necessarily teach all of (the curriculum),” McMurray said. “The teachers will look at the instructional materials and determine if they align to standards and if there are things that are extraneous. I do know there are some sections of the materials that they said they’d probably not follow exactly as written.”

Board members Jim Cooper and Cory Chase said they voted to approve the curriculum because they trust the process that led to the recommendation. 

“I have the confidence in the leadership of this district to make sound decisions when it comes to this,” Chase said. “This is not one-size-fits-all, and I don’t think the expectation is that we’re passing something that is right for every single person in our community. I personally have concerns over things that are in this curriculum, but that doesn’t mean that everybody that I represent in this district share those concerns. The most important things for me are that we have a transparent process, involve our constituents in that process, have thoughtful leadership that is taking a look at this, and have options for our kids and parents.”