A concern voiced by opponents of the proposed Helena School District health enhancement curriculum is that not enough nondistrict employees were members of the committee that met for two years to develop the 62-page draft document.
But that’s not changing the process already set in motion, and Superintendent Bruce Messinger told school board members and the 100 people who attended a meeting Tuesday night that he’ll work to make changes to the proposed health curriculum.
The document generated strong community reaction mostly centered on the human sexuality portion, and Messinger said that’s where the majority of the changes will be made.
“This is how the process works with curriculum,” board chair Michael O’Neil said. “We’ve received vibrant community conversations, and at this stage we are trying to incorporate the work of the committee … Bruce is trying to synthesize.”
The committee completed its part, and it is now in the board’s hands, O’Neil said.
“(The committee) gave it their best shot,” Messinger said. “It was their best thinking, so my sense is it’s now in our court.”
O’Neil said school officials are not going back to the drawing board, but rather resetting the public process so comments can be considered. Originally, the plan was to approve the curriculum this month so an implementation plan could be developed this year. But due to the enormous response from the community, they’ve slowed that process to provide trustees time to consider the thousands of letters and e-mails in support and in opposition of the proposed document.
Messinger said those comments, suggestions and criticism have some patterns, so the changes will focus on those points. For example, the age appropriateness of some content, particularly at the elementary level, came into question.
Messinger said he won’t make the decisions in isolation, and intends to seek input from school nurses and the County Health Department. He said it would be difficult to decide who to invite to the table if it were opened up to new people. No matter what that final draft entails, he said, some will likely remain unhappy.
The changes to the draft will be presented to trustees at the Sept. 14 board meeting. A public hearing is planned some time before the Oct. 12 meeting, during which the board will take final action. A date has yet to be set for the public hearing because school officials are working to provide a larger location than the Front Street Learning Center. At the last public hearing on the health curriculum, hundreds of people had to listen to the meeting from speakers set up outside.
O’Neil didn’t allow comments to be made on the curriculum because, per state statute, no public comment is accepted regarding items that are on the agenda. He did remind the audience at Tuesday’s meeting that the public comment period is still open and letters and e-mails are welcome.
He added that although the district will still have a two-minute time limit per person at the public hearing next month, the board has no intention of limiting the number of people who are allowed to speak. At the last public hearing both sides of the issue — proponents and opponents — were limited to an hour each, which allowed for 64 people to speak.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or firstname.lastname@example.org