I am dismayed at the Montana tea party’s effort to insert itself into our community discussion of how to best provide our children’s health and sexuality education. I firmly believe that the concerned parents of our community are working for the best interests of their children. I also firmly believe that the Helena School District trustees and administrators have this same goal and intention. For the Montana tea party to pretend that our children’s education should be “in our (their) hands” is appalling.
As parents and a community we have an important opportunity to come together and participate in a critical decision in the lives of our children. This is our responsibility. Political parties have no legitimate claim. My prayer is that we come together to do this important work, rather than allow ourselves to be inflamed and polarized by those who would sacrifice the welfare of our children in order to advance their own political agenda.
Yes, there were glaring errors in the district’s first draft of this curriculum. There was much in the district’s first draft which I applaud. If we truly are a community that cares deeply for our children, we must address the escalating trends of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and the disturbing trends of childhood obesity and related health disorders. As a protective parent of two young children, I could not have supported the first draft. Yet it is moving toward a better document that I can support.
Parents, please stop to consider the trust our school district has earned through the years of serving our children. It is not a perfect organization, but on the whole it serves our children well. Its imperfections are the opportunities for us to come forward and participate in improvement. Our schools are at their best when we all participate. Come to the meetings on this health curriculum. Come with an open mind and with the expectation that you will be heard and your opinion will be respected.
One of the mistakes the school administrators made was not anticipating the level of community concern and participation when the health curriculum draft was first introduced. They were not prepared to hear everyone who wanted to speak, let alone seat them. It is good to hold them accountable for this error, and also good to give them opportunity to fix it. They did better at the last meeting, and there is opportunity to submit your thoughts in writing if time does not allow for everyone to speak at future meetings.
But don’t stop there. Our schools need our daily support. Volunteer in your child’s or grandchild’s classroom. Your child’s teacher will be able to give more quality individual attention to all the children when you provide this level of support. And you can experience the joy of sharing yourself with these kids.
Participate in your school’s parent council. You will gain a better understanding of the school’s strengths and weaknesses. You will have direct opportunity to offer ideas for improvement. And you will be developing relationships with your child’s teacher, principal and school community. This is where trust is built. The better we know each other, the more effectively we can solve our differences. All our children and schools will benefit from a higher level of parent and community involvement.
I am excited to imagine the positive benefits our kids will realize if our community can work together to decide how we want to address the important concerns this health curriculum raises. Imagine if we all should stay engaged at this level of participating in our children’s education. Helena is a wonderful place to raise children. Your continued positive participation in our schools will make it even better.
Please don’t be swayed by the radical politicians who would coopt and polarize our discussion in an effort to gain attention or credibility for their own political ends. They want to subvert our discussion about our children’s needs into a vehicle to grab national attention and further their own political agenda. The children of our community are the ones they would sacrifice toward this end.
I would add only that the Helena School District’s Board of Trustees is the very same board that adopted a groundbreaking consensus style of negotiating with our teacher’s union few years back. They stepped out of a traditionally adversarial relationship, instead building relationships and trust, and benefiting our children, teachers and schools. Let’s expect no less of them this time around. And expect no less of ourselves. At the risk of sounding too much like John Lennon … imagine (and do it!).
Susan Anderson is a parent of two children at Smith Elementary. She is also a clinical social worker and play therapist.