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Sun, May 31

Sex ed curriculum available for review

Middle and high school sex education materials being considered for adoption next year are available for review at the Grand Canyon School's district office. Parents can examine books and handouts, as well as notes from the teachers who reviewed them, and borrow DVDs that will be shown in class.

State law requires three public hearings before the curriculum can be adopted. The first was at the June School Board meeting. The next will be at the July meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 15, with adoption slated after the third hearing at the next meeting on Aug. 19.

Dean of Students Becky Crumbo said that the district has never had an on-campus sex ed program though in the early 1990s, with the support of a grant they were able to offer a well-attended after-school program. According to Superintendent Sheila Breen, sixth graders did get a small, abstinence-only module as part of their grade-level curriculum taught by Lori Rommel.

Breen said she felt that more was needed.

"I was uncomfortable that we didn't have a program," she said. "Some kids have been idealizing and glamorizing pregnancy in high school, not understanding how it limits their choices."

The programs to be adopted are "Making a Difference" for middle school and "Reducing the Risk" for high school. Both programs have a strong role-play component to help teens think about and work out responses to possible situations. Both programs also spend time setting ground rules.

"As part of the parameters for the class, they set up the rules - you don't laugh, you don't make people feel bad for asking questions and everyone should be treated with respect," said Breen.

Another ground rule is that no one, including the teacher, is forced to answer any question that causes them discomfort.

The state has also reviewed and approved the programs as being in line with Arizona requirements and restrictions.

The state requires sex education curriculum to promote abstinence as the only 100-percent safe method to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Lessons must also discourage drug abuse and dispel myths about how HIV is transmitted. Classroom instruction must not promote homosexuality or present it as a positive lifestyle, and in any discussion of sexual practices none can be described as a homosexual practice.

Also required under state law is that boys and girls be taught separately and that lessons not include tests or psychological inventories that ask questions about personal beliefs or practices, morality, values or religion.

The high school program, "Reducing the Risk," is published by ETR Associates (www.etr.org) and is described as "evidence-based." It defines and teaches delaying and refusal skills to maintain abstinence, discusses risky behavior and offers information on other methods of protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.

The middle school program, "Making a Difference," is published by Select Media (www.selectmedia.org) and was named as a "Program that Works" by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It covers the physical and emotional changes of puberty, promotes positive attitudes toward abstinence and discusses the consequences of irresponsible choices regarding sex.

"There is a lot about making choices and empowerment and not getting pushed into something you're not ready for," Breen said. "This goes for boys too who might have pressure from girlfriends just to have a baby."

While the program teaches about protection against pregnancy and STDs, "abstinence skills are embedded," Crumbo said. "They teach refusal skills, role play and practice that are at the core of abstinence only programs."

Crumbo, Guidance Counselor Elizabeth Davis, health teacher Dan Lopez, elementary school teacher and parent Cyndi Moreno and middle school teacher Jason Evans were on the committee to review and select the materials.

According to Crumbo, the program will be opt-in, rather than opt out. Once the lessons are worked out, she said the school will send letters home outlining what will be taught and when. Parents may approve attendance for the whole program or just those parts that they are comfortable with.

"This is touchy stuff," she said. "It's imperative that we have an opt-in so that nothing slips through the cracks. People should definitely have the choice."

Students who opt out will have alternate health assignments not related to sex education. Davis will teach girls while Lopez will offer instruction for the boys.

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