Members of the Canby School Board clashed over schools’ sexual education curriculum last week before ultimately voting to adopt it — bringing the district in line with state standards after several years of noncompliance.
The procedural vote was less consequential than it may seem at first blush. The district’s curriculum, which includes The Great Body Shop for sixth- through eighth-graders and CharacterStrong for high school students, has already been the standard in Canby classrooms since it was adopted in 2011 following an in-depth community process.
Changing — or even significantly revising it — would take much longer than this summer to research, review and approve. So, the current curriculum was going to be the foundation for sex ed teaching in Canby classrooms during the 2021-22 school year regardless of Thursday’s vote.
The question, then, was really about whether the Canby School Board wanted to move the district into compliance with the Oregon Department of Education’s Division 22 rules for the first time since the state adopted new sexuality education standards in 2016.
“The curriculum will still be taught because it was adopted in 2011 by the Canby School District,” Superintendent Trip Goodall explained. “The vote tonight is really about compliance.”
That said, much of Thursday’s discussion centered on the sex ed curriculum and how it was being presented to Canby students and families.
Directors Stefani Carlson and Dawn Depner said they had concerns about several elements of the curriculum, which they had both reviewed.
“And I would be more than happy to share some of the things that I reviewed, but I’m actually kind of uncomfortable talking about it in a public meeting forum like this,” Carlson said.
“I know that there are going to be parents that are not OK with some of this stuff that I looked at. We’re here to represent the parents and the citizens, and yes, the standards are important, but the parents should have a final say in what their children are taught as far as sex ed is concerned.”
Goodall said the curriculum is available to parents to review, and parents have the option to exclude their children from any or all of the human sexuality lessons. Those students are given alternative activities to complete, he explained.
“As a parent, I take my role really seriously,” Goodall said. “So, when I know that kind of curriculum is going to be presented to my son, I make a point of determining whether that’s acceptable or not. I would encourage parents to really, again, take time to look at the curriculum and determine if that’s what they want taught to their child.”
But Depner and Carlson questioned how well this is communicated to families, saying parents have told them they were not aware they could review the lessons or opt their child out.
“As a parent, I had to pick my child up from middle school because of something she learned in health class that would probably be OK for every other student, but for her, it wasn’t,” Depner said. “And I would have liked to have known that curriculum ahead of time because I know my daughter and it caused a lot of trauma.
“I just think that’s up to the parent to decide whether or not they want their child to be taught that in school. It’s not up to the school.”
“That’s what I just said, Dawn,” Goodall replied.
“I totally understand that, but I just don’t even believe it should be a choice in the classroom,” Depner explained.
They said they favored an “opt-in” approach over the current policy, but Director Tom Scott said he felt that would be too cumbersome for the district.
“And I think many kids will miss out on some good stuff because somebody misses that and they don’t get opted in,” he said. “Again, I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to take an active role in their education. I respect their right to opt out of it, but they have to be active in that.”
While both said there was much in The Great Body Shop that they found valuable, there were a few lessons they thought were inappropriate for preteens, including one in which 12- and 13-year-olds are taught how to put a condom on, according to Depner, and “how to leave room at the tip of a condom.”
“I think this is very inappropriate, and I don’t think parents would want this to be taught to their kids,” she said. “Maybe some would, but I would not. So I will absolutely say no to this, and I think we need to revisit it.”
But some of these claims were disputed by other board members, who said they had reviewed the material and gone through it with the health teachers who actually adapt it for use in their classrooms.
“I can assure you, and I certainly want the community to know, our kids are not being taught in the sixth grade how to put on a condom,” Vice Chair Sara Magenheimer said. “That’s not the reality. I know that’s an option in the book, but these teachers spend a lot of time talking about what this looks like in their classrooms, what’s the right thing for kids.”
Magenheimer and Director Rob Sheveland said they had different experiences than Depner with their own middle-school-age children, including receiving handouts about the curriculum, “parent’s night” events to discuss the material and an “openness to questions” on the part of teachers.
“We had the chance to dig in, sit down with teachers and understand how they prioritize a vast curriculum in a really short amount of time,” Sheveland said. “I appreciate that because there is a lot of good material in there that I think folks would agree is good material.”
“I feel like it’s very well communicated,” Magenheimer agreed, “and if we feel that’s not appropriate for our kid, we can opt out.”
“OK, great. Thank you,” Carlson replied. “The reason I bring it up is that I have had a couple of parents tell me that their kids learned some things that they didn’t agree with being taught in the classroom, and they were not aware of that opting-out process.”
She later said that two additional parents had emailed her during Thursday’s meeting to report that they were never given information about opting out.
Carlson requested that the vote on the sex ed curriculum be delayed until it could be reviewed by incoming Canby Superintendent Aaron Downs, as well as two new school board members and a new director of teaching and learning to replace the departing Ivonne Dibblee.
“I just feel like we need to move a little bit more slowly on this,” Carlson said. “I honestly don’t see why we’re rushing it. We’ve already been out of compliance for a while. What’s it going to hurt to revisit it and maybe look at some other options surrounding it?”
The other directors said they supported further review of the curriculum and making sure parents receive proper notification of the opt-out process, but didn’t see the point in delaying the procedural vote.
“This feels like a weird technicality because we are using the curriculum, and we have been using the curriculum,” Sheveland said. “We’re out of compliance because the board hasn’t voted on it since 2011. If we decide to pick a new curriculum or revise it through community input, we can still do that.”
Confusion reigned when Carlson moved to table the sex ed curriculum while the vote to approve it was already underway. It was adopted, 5-2, with Depner and Carlson in opposition.
Carlson later argued that her move to table the item should have taken priority over the pending motion, according to Robert’s Rules of Order. The board agreed to vote on the motion to table. It failed, 5-2.
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