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What is appropriate to teach middle school students?

Legally, district may need to teach about contraceptive use

November 23, 2010 | 08:43 AM
Walworth — It isn't an easy subject to approach.

However, the state law has changed on how schools teach it, and Walworth Elementary School is discussing how that will affect its curriculum.

A group of parents and educators are reviewing the school's human growth and development curriculum and whether the school will continue teaching it.

In 2009, the state adopted Act 134, which addresses teen pregnancy prevention and age-appropriate sex education. The law still allows parents to opt out of having their children take the course.

Teaching human growth and development isn't new to Walworth Elementary School. District Administrator Pam Knorr said the school has covered the topic in some form for at least the past 20 years.

However, the new state law requires school districts to teach about the use of contraceptives, which has never been done before at the middle school level.

"We were all abstinence-based, 100 percent abstinence based," Knorr said.

State law now requires school districts to either teach about the use of contraceptives and several other topics, or not teach the subject at all.

Knorr said she is seeking clarification from the Department of Public Instruction on how the law affects school districts with kindergarten through eighth-grade students. She wants to know if the district would be subject to the exact wording of the law, or if it could consider the curriculum at Big Foot High School.

According to the law, the curriculum must cover, "The health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to prevent pregnancy and... prevent sexually transmitted diseases."

In addition to teaching about the use of contraceptives, the curriculum must cover puberty, pregnancy, parenting, body image and gender stereotypes.

It also must cover the benefits of abstinence.

"Instruction under this subdivision shall stress the value of abstinence as the most reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections," the law states.

If the district has to cover all the topics before the eighth-grade, Knorr said she doesn't know whether the district should continue the program.

The School's Human Growth and Development Curriculum Committee has met twice to discuss the issue. The group consists of parents, medical professionals and members of the clergy.

Knorr said two parents on the committee are nurses, one of whom is an OB/gyn nurse.

One of the challenges for the group is teaching resources, Knorr said.

"It is hard to find good-quality, age-appropriate materials," she said.

What happens now

The current curriculum is geared toward seventh- and eighth-grade students and last for five days.

Knorr said the district segregates boys and girls into separate classrooms while the subject is taught. It covers puberty, sexual transmitted infections, abstinence and child birth.

Parents always have had the option to optout of the education, but in the previous 10 years it has only happened once, Knorr said.

In lower grade levels, Knorr said the human growth and development curriculum covers the uniqueness of families, bullying, harassment, hygiene and friendship.

Students in the younger grades also learn about Stranger Danger and the difference between appropriate and non-appropriate touching.

Parent's role

Walworth Principal Pamela Larson said it is important for parents to play a role in this.

Larson said parents can ask what the students are talking about at school to begin these conversations.

"Have the Stranger Danger conversation at that time," she said. "Reassure the children that you will believe them and that they can come forward to you. If parents are unsure how to approach use the school as the lead."

Both Larson and Knorr said it's important for parents to use the correct and factual terminology when they talk to their children.

"If they are asking, they are more than likely ready," Larson said.

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