Parkway approves new Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health Curriculum

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Parkway approves new Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health Curriculum

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After months of turmoil, petitions, heated debates, the Parkway School Board of Education reached a decision regarding the Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health Curriculum, passing the material in a 4-3 vote Wednesday night around 9:30 p.m. The legislation process began in 2013.

“Almost three years ago now I ran a petition with two of my friends to have the school district look at their sexual health curriculum. My friend from Parkway North and I then presented our proposal to Dr. Marty and Dr. Watson, later presented it to Dr. Marty’s advisory counsel and then I started working directly with Parkway’s Health and PE curriculum coordinator,” Parkway Central alumni, former President of Central High’s GSA club, former chair of the board for Missouri’s GSA network and Regional GSA representative for the Midwest Sterling Waldman said.

The current curriculum was compared with material outlined in the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) standards, which are used nationally, albeit inconsistently, to regulate information provided in sexual health classes. The new curriculum educate students as young as first grade on body awareness and interpersonal relationships.

“In many correspondence you have received, it has been stated that Parkway is adopting the Comprehensive Sexuality Education standards. We are not,” Assistant Superintendent Lisa Meredith said. “[CSE standards] were used alongside national standards as a way to audit the curriculum. Three audits were completed. The audits reflected a professional opinion that the proposed Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health curriculum was age-appropriate, medically accurate and presented in a neutral way.”

Those in support of the curriculum changes argue that adopting the sexual health framework would be in the best interest of students as it they believe it would decrease STIs and make classes more inclusive for students in the LGBTQ+ community.

I say to the community, to the board and to all the people who are gathered: this has been the most respectful and most open discussion we’ve had.”

— Dr. Keith Marty

“The benefits of passing this curriculum are massive. STI rates are astronomical for this area and St. Louis county, not even St. Louis city, is second in the nation for gonorrhea, so affecting those would be huge in improving students’ health. I also think it will impact how students interact with each other. By addressing LGBTQ identities, Parkway will become a more welcoming community for LGBT individuals. Also, a lot of school districts are looking to Parkway at this point, and have the mentality that if we pass it, they will too,” Waldman said.

Opponents to the curriculum change, such as Parkway alumni and parent Sue Weaver, argue that CSE standards are “nothing short of an all out assault on marriage, family and values.”  Main concerns of traditional parent groups are that the curriculum hinders parent-child relationships, fails to truthfully connect sexual behaviors with disease and teaches gender identity as fluid and feeling-based, thus eliminating the biological validity of the sexes. A comprehensive list of concerns and statistics can be found at protectparkwaystudents.org.

“It is too much too soon for our kids from all ages. My children are just too young to being hearing about these messages. This curriculum is definitely taking away my parental rights by not letting parents be their first educators,” mother of third and fifth grade students Alissa Beach said.

Of 69 people who signed up to speak to the board, the only student from West High and the only student who spoke in dissent of the curriculum change was senior Sam Wait.

I wanted to see what the district says on the this issue, so I checked the FAQ and I found this: ‘While a gender spectrum may not be medically proven, it is not medically unproven. This is an excellent example of Probatio Diobolica: The Devil’s Proof. The gist of this is that is nearly impossible to have evidence to ‘disprove’ the existence of the Devil, or in our case a ‘gender spectrum,’ because the burden of proof clearly lies with the other side. If there is no medically proven gender spectrum, there is no reason to endanger the outstanding quality of Parkway’s education with information that is backed more by belief than fact,” Wait said. “I don’t suppose it would be right for others to be taught my personal world view in school, so I would expect those with world views different from my own to be held to the same standard.”

Tensions mounted as spectators cheered for opinions they supported despite repeated requests to withhold applause from Board Member Chris Jacobs. Although each speaker was limited to one minute due to time constraints, some continued speaking, attempting to drown out Jacobs regretfully informing them their time was up. Some speakers even resorted to direct call-outs to attempt to garner attention and support for their side.

“I think it’s really important that Parkway protect all of its students, and at this year’s 2016 Spirit of Excellence Awards, Dr. Marty, you said that you were thankful to have a board that was committed to all of its students. And I think if that’s really true, then this board will vote in favor of the curriculum change,” Parkway North junior Lexy Smith said.

LGBT students, concerned Christian and Muslim groups, parents, doctors and local taxpayers all assembled to state their respective opinions.

“We teach tolerance and love for other human being[s], regardless what the media portrays and some Muslims display. We wish no harm to any child, including LGBTQ communities. We wish them well and pray that God give us all guidance. If all of this is happening to make LGBTQ communities inclusive and comfortable, there are other way to teach tolerance and accommodation, without all school children to learn everything [about sexual health]. Are you saving a small segment of the students at the expense of a larger segment of students?” Muslim and M.D. Salma Ahmad said.

Before the critical ballots were cast, Superintendent Dr. Keith Marty spoke to the board expressing his approval of the curriculum and framework, citing his experience in education and committing to maintaining a transparent relationship with the public regarding the curriculum process.

“Without sounding like an old guy that’s been in education for 40 years, I’ve been through many different discussions of sexual health in many different forms, from the late ‘70s when we first had to decide as educators how we were going to discuss abortion after Roe v. Wade, to the years when homosexuality became a prevalent topic to HIV/AIDS,” Marty said. “I say to the community, to the board and to all the people who are gathered: this has been the most respectful and most open discussion we’ve had.”

The 3-4 vote, as well as the division of opinion among the 69 speakers, reflects the division of the district as a whole. In order to overcome division, West High PE and Health teacher for 27 years Tim Corteville believes that looking to past curriculum changes is crucial to reducing current tensions surrounding the curriculum.

“The abstinence-based curriculum change in 1993 was very similar in regards to what happened today. When the board voted in favor of the change in ‘93 teachers three important things occurred. First, teachers received training and support, second students showed up to classes because most parents supported their children being there,” Corteville said. “We’ve made mistakes, but I’ve taught over 10,000 students our current curriculum we have learned and grown together. Third, parents were given the choice to opt out their students. If the proposed curriculum is approved, the same three things will happen again.”