District reviews new curriculum
Sex ed, substance abuse

The public — parents, educators, or other interested parties — will have an opportunity to review the Archuleta County School District 50 Joint’s proposed sexual health and substance abuse prevention curriculum over the next month.

Curriculum information and teaching materials will be on display in the district’s board room (located in the district’s Lewis Street office building), along with student texts and other learning material. The public can review the materials during district business hours, 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday through June 9 (the offices will be closed Monday, May 25, for Memorial Day).

Presenting to the district board on Tuesday night, School and Community Prevention Coordinator Anna Royer explained that the proposed curriculum represented the results of a community effort with 29 members of the district’s Health and Wellness Committee (HWC) scoping the material.

“We spent quite a bit of time determining what is appropriate for our students and what is appropriate for our community,” Royer said.

If accepted by the board (the board will discuss the curriculum at a June 2 work session and will most likely vote on whether or not to accept the recommendation of the HWC at the board’s June 9 meeting), the curriculum will signify a shift in the district’s approach to sexual health and substance abuse, bringing the district in line with mandates from Colorado House Bill 1292.

Signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007, HB 1292 stipulates that Colorado public school sex education programs, “maintain content standards for the curriculum that are based on scientific research,” and, at the same time, “emphasize abstinence and teach that sexual abstinence is the only certain way and the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.”

Previously, the district had taken an abstinence-only approach to sexual health but will now take a more comprehensive approach to sexual health education in district schools.

With multiple studies showing that children in abstinence-only sex education programs were no less likely to engage in sexual intercourse than children who were instructed in more comprehensive sex education programs, the Obama administration cutting funding to abstinence-only sex education programs on Monday, and the mandates of HB 1292, the district took logical (if not timely) steps towards bringing its sexual health education in line with the rest of the nation.

The program proposed for the district, if accepted, would be implemented this fall for students in grades kindergarten through eighth-grade. The program would address substance abuse prevention as well as sexual health issues. Younger students (K-4) would not receive classroom instruction and the curriculum would only be used as an intervention when at-risk behavior was identified in students. Older students (fifth through ninth grade) would receive formal classroom instruction in sexual health, substance abuse and violence prevention. Although instruction in human reproductive anatomy would be implemented for grades 6-8, the HWC was unsure at what grade level it would be appropriate to introduce instruction on contraception.

Contraception instruction, at whatever grade, would not be mandatory, however, and that instruction would be strategically placed to allow parents objecting to that material to opt out that particular segment of the program rather than rejecting the entire course.

HWC (and former school board) member Mike Haynes addressed the board, expressing enthusiasm for the results of the committee’s work, saying, “This has been a very diverse committee, with people from every side of the spectrum and we reached a consensus with Anna’s help. She was a great facilitator.”

PSHS student Jeff Reardon, also an HWC member, agreed, saying, “I was really glad I could be a part of this process that will help my peers and the coming generations. From a high schooler’s perspective, everyone I’ve talked to about this has said this is going to be great.”

For now, PSHS students in grades 10-12 will not receive any of the program’s instruction. “We’re making an effort to be realistic and go slowly,” Royer said.

Royer added that instruction for grades 10-12 would hopefully be ready by next year. Board member Joanne Irons asked Royer, “Since you’re the School and Community Prevention Coordinator, with me emphasizing ‘community,’ would you be open to making this information available to tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders in a community setting?”

“I would be open to having that discussion,” Royer replied.

At this point, having an open discussion about the curriculum seems to be Royer’s primary focus and making the curricula available to the public is part of that dialogue. “There’s been a lot of misinformation out there, I’ve already heard several rumors that are floating around. This is a small town and a rumor gets around fast.”

Royer noted that the misinformation has everything to do with the controversial nature of the curricula and that, “It tends to get sensationalized and polarizing. A lot of people are worried about contraception.”

Despite the controversy, the school board will discuss the curriculum at its June 2 work session, 5 p.m. at the district board room in the district’s administration building. Following the work session, the board could make a decision on the curriculum and the HWC’s recommendations at its June 9 board meeting, 6 p.m. at the district’s bus barn.

jim@pagosasun.com