Omaha Public Schools’ effort to revise sex education standards for the first time in 30 years has revealed deep divides over what young people should learn about issues ranging from sexual orientation to gender identity and contraception.
That debate erupted Monday night as the public comment period of a school board meeting turned into an impassioned three-hour back-and-forth, with some arguing that the school system should give students the tools they need to navigate their relationships and the world, and others claiming that the system is trying to indoctrinate children with ideas about sexual freedom.
“Your decision is not political. It’s not educational. You have a moral decision to make. … I hope you are working from a Bible that is worn out,” said Kathryn Russell, who described herself as a mother, grandmother, Catholic and former Omaha Public Schools employee.
“But the curriculum you have, the standards you have, gives too much information,” Russell said, according to the school system’s video of the meeting posted online. “It rapes children of their innocence. Information is important, but this gives too much information.”
Her comments were met with raucous applause, but there were plenty in the packed auditorium who disagreed.
“Comprehensive sexual education is important for every single one of my peers. It is important to have all of the information in order to make an educated decision regarding my body and how to take care of it,” said Ryleigh Welsh, a sophomore at Omaha’s Central High. “I have a right to this information.”
Sex ed has long been a sensitive subject for schools and a battlefield for advocates of different approaches to teaching about bodies and relationships. Now schools around the country must wrestle with how best to educate young people about sex at a time of rapid social change — particularly regarding LGBT issues — and heightened awareness of the problem of sexual violence.
Students nationwide say that this is an area in which schools have room to grow: Most of those who had sex ed in middle school or high school said they received medically accurate information, according to a 2015 poll. But four in 10 say that their sex education was “not helpful” in navigating real-life decisions about sex and relationships.
Omaha’s Human Growth and Development courses begin with a short series of lessons about puberty in the fourth grade, according to information posted on the school system’s website. Seventh- and eighth-grade students each get nine weeks of instruction, and high school students take a one-semester course in 10th grade. The courses are not required; parents have the right to opt their children out.
The school system proposed a number of changes last year, including new lessons on social media and bullying and sexual harassment. Among the more controversial proposals were those that would introduce lessons about LGBT issues, gender identity, emergency contraception and abortion.
Source: Washington Post | Emma Brown