Helena School District Superintendent Bruce Messinger said the curriculum committee that developed the proposed health enhancement curriculum is not starting over, but rather plans to make revisions to some language in the document.
An executive committee of the Helena School Board decided late last week to extend the timetable before taking action on the proposed 64-page health curriculum. The decision came just three days after a record number of residents turned out for the board meeting, during which public comment was taken on the document and only 64 were allowed to address the board publicly.
Trustees were slated to take action at the Aug. 10 meeting, but the executive committee —made up of chairman Michael O’Neil, vice chair Aidan Myhre, former chair Don Jones, along with Messinger — made the decision to delay taking action. Those who worked on this curriculum committee will be charged with making revisions to the human sexuality portion and its age appropriateness. The group will also develop a companion piece aimed to outline some of the ideas introduced as well as explanation and rationale.
Those revisions, along with companion document, will be presented to trustees at the Sept. 14 meeting, and just as when the draft document was first introduced, no public comment will be accepted at that time.
“The revisions will come mostly around the pages that have generated so much controversy,” Messinger said.
One of the biggest complaints from opponents of the document is the lack of involvement on the committee of parents who are not employees of the district.
“We won’t invite more people to the table,” Messinger said.
At this point in the process, determining who those people should be would likely cause more controversy and Messinger said this curriculum change has already had more community input than others.
“Through the input, we have a sense of where people are, and we’ll do our best to be responsive knowing we have some pretty strong disagreement in some topic areas,” he said.
Officials with the Lewis and Clark Health Department, some of whom spoke at last week’s board meeting, say it’s OK that trustees are taking more time.
“I hope the board adopts a curriculum that addresses important health issues in our community that affect children,” Public Health Nurse Mike Henderson said.
Kay Robertson, who works in communicable diseases, agrees.
“I believe in prevention education, so I’m watching the process and hope that (the end result) includes prevention education, which is what I do,” she said.
Robertson said at the public hearing last week: “When it comes to communicable diseases, ignorance is not bliss.”
Peter Bovingdon, parent and attorney, spoke as a proponent at the hearing and says he hopes the goals are still met after revisions are made.
Bovingdon said every parent wants to preserve the innocence of their children for as long as possible, and they should, but the choices today are to provide young minds with the correct information or to allow them to get the inaccurate information from peers or the Internet.
“When the curriculum (material) is ultimately developed, (the district) is going to be sensitive,” he said. “I’m confident they’ll approach it in ways that are the least troubling and least offensive.”
Trustee Joe Cohenour said he agreed with 98 percent of the document, but 100 percent of the intent.
“Some of the wording didn’t come out as intended,” he said. “It’s not a perfect document.”
Cohenour said that the added time will provide the board opportunity to go back and make changes so the document’s intended purpose is more clear.
“I agree with the decision to postpone, and I was going to go in that direction at the next meeting just so we can clear up some of the confusion,” he said.
Local mother Jennifer Shamley opposes most of the pages addressing human sexuality and hopes dramatic changes are made to those pages.
“It’s way too much at such young ages,” she said. “Where does it stop? This is bedroom activity that maybe not even high schoolers need to be in the discussion.”
She is also disappointed that new people won’t be invited to help make revisions.
“I don’t think (the district) was fair with parent involvement from the beginning,” Shamley said.
Trustee Trevor Wilkerson openly disagrees with the proposed draft and is pleased to see the board reacting.
“It’s a step in the right direction, and I’m hoping they’ll use a lot of the comments that are coming in,” he said.
Wilkerson said he would not have voted in favor of the document as presented.
For a yes vote, he says the human sexuality and family relationship portions will have to meet the values of Helena.
Wilkerson is the newest member on the board and was sworn in at the May meeting. His wife, Mikal Wilkerson, is one of the leaders of Helena Youth Advocates who are in opposition of the proposal and has even appeared in interviews with Fox News.
Trevor doesn’t feel his wife’s participation has comprised his position as an elected school official, and has no intention of abstaining from voting.
“Other members have been the leaders of the proponents,” he said.
Trevor does admit however that the controversy has been a bit overwhelming in the midst of learning the board’s process.
“But it’s a good way for me to learn,” he said.
Does he care that he’s the only board member openly contesting the curriculum?
“It’s best to be unified, but only if it reflects what the community wants. There are times when you have to be divided because you don’t feel like it is moral or represents the value of the people,” he said.
Messinger said a public hearing on the revisions will be scheduled sometime after the September board meeting and before action is potentially taken at the meeting on Oct. 12.
Even if the board supports the draft, it won’t be implemented until the 2011-12 school year and schools will continue teaching sex education in the fifth and 10th grades.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or email@example.com