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Mother sues over sex-ed curriculum

2010-08-21T00:00:00Z Mother sues over sex-ed curriculumBy ANGELA BRANDT Independent Record Helena Independent Record
August 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A Helena mother says the final adoption of a highly controversial proposed health curriculum will cause her and her children “irreparable harm” and is asking a District Court judge to intervene.

Kristi Allen-Gailushas filed a complaint Friday afternoon against the Helena School District and the state Office of Public Instruction.

“The tyranny cannot continue,” Allen-Gailushas said.

The complaint calls into question the content of the curriculum and the process used to develop it. The complaint alleges the curriculum is in violation of the Montana Constitution because it was developed without any public hearings or meetings where parents could observe and participate.

OPI should have stepped in and stopped this from happening, Allen-Gailushas claims.

According to Jessica Rhoades, a spokeswoman for OPI, the state constitution forbids the office from dictating such curriculum.

“It’s 100 percent on the local level,” she said.

According to court documents, Allen-Gailushas requested “a seat at the table” via a letter to Superintendent Bruce Messinger and was refused. She then asked to speak at a school board meeting and was ignored, the documents allege, thus violating her freedom of speech and expression.

“Kristi purports that the district continues to fail to open the procedure up to public review,” the document says.

Messinger said Friday evening he had not yet been served with the complaint.

After two years in the making, the curriculum committee introduced the proposed health enhancement curriculum in June to the school board of trustees, at which time it became a public document. The regular protocol is for a committee to make a proposal and then open it to public comment before the board makes a decision on the matter, Messinger said.

“We believe the opportunity for participation has been happening since June,” Messinger said. “We don’t think any rights have been violated here.”

Since then, he said, thousands of pieces of correspondence have been received, both for and against the draft curriculum, including a letter from Allen-Gailushas asking to be a part of a revising committee, which has not been formed.

Messinger said he could offer more response once he reads the complaint.

Allen-Gailushas, a Republican candidate for Montana House District 82, announced her complaint alongside members of the Big Sky Tea Party Association late Friday afternoon at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse. She said the curriculum was decided upon “behind closed doors.”

The proposed curriculum — a 62-page document that covers a wide spectrum of health concerns — is the result of two years of work by a committee. It takes a science-based approach in covering topics such as nutrition, relationships, mental health, environmental health and disease prevention.

Proponents say the curriculum provides fact-based education that gives students the proper information they need to better understand their bodies and the world around them.

Critics take particular issue with the proposal to teach fifth-grade students that sexual activity includes “vaginal, oral, or anal penetration” and ensure kindergarteners through third-graders know the anatomical names for body parts, including the penis and vagina.

“These are issues that belong in the home. These are social issues that don’t belong in the school,” Allen-Gailushas said.

The curriculum is currently being revised based on the public comments received, Messinger said. 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.

Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or angela.brandt@helenair.com

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