At the Sept. 15 school board meeting, revisions made to the health enhancement curriculum draft were presented. While these revisions are a positive step in the direction of producing a draft that reflects the values of our Helena community, I believe that the district’s work isn’t finished.
True, some offensive language has been removed or clarified in parts of the curriculum, yet it still remains intact in other sections. For example, teaching the medically accurate names of the reproductive body parts to kindergartners was clarified. However, kindergarten teachers will still be expected to use these terms, rather than simply addressing them as “private parts.” Also, fourth-graders are still required to identify the male and female reproductive systems using medically correct terminology. And third-graders will still discuss “that the ovary produces eggs and the testicles produce sperm.” (Revised 40) Doesn’t this all still require a detailed lesson on reproductive parts at a young age? Is this age-appropriate?
Further, “[u]nderstand that intercourse includes, but is not limited to …” was removed from the human sexuality section, but positions for intercourse still remain in the curriculum. They can be found in the “sexually transmitted infections” section. Beginning in fifth grade, the curriculum states “[u]nderstand barrier methods of contraception (i.e. male and female condoms, dental dams can reduce but not prevent STIs)”. (Revised 57) Isn’t knowledge of positions for intercourse a prerequisite for understanding how to properly employ barrier methods of contraception? Thus, discussing forms of intercourse in the fifth grade may have been removed from one section, but remains in the overall draft.
Other revisions to the draft sought to make the abstinence message more visible, which is commendable. However, the revised curriculum still fails to live up to our Montana Office of Public Instruction standards that state that a health curriculum should include the following:
“(a) support youth who have not had sexual intercourse to continue to postpone the initiation of sexual intercourse, (b) help youth who have had sexual intercourse to re-establish abstinence, and (c) present information on disease prevention methods for those unable or unwilling to refrain from sexual intercourse.” (Montana Accreditation Standards for Health Enhancement)
In the revised curriculum (b) remains entirely absent, and both (a) and (c) still need to be significantly strengthened. I would like to see some of the recommendations proposed at Tuesday’s meeting employed for this. For instance, it was noted that one doesn’t have to be abstinent their whole life, as the revisions imply (Revised 49), but that abstinence until marriage for both partners and faithfulness in marriage will protect 100 percent against STIs. I also support the suggestion that we should expand on the vague language of “[u]nderstand the risks associated with sexual activity” (Revised 49) to specifically include the physical, emotional and psychological risks of sexual activity. Also, how about adding instruction concerning the higher risk factors for STD infection associated with the young female body as suggested by Miriam Grossman? And, including a discussion, at an age-appropriate level, of how some forms of intercourse carry a higher rate of disease transmission than others?
Further, this curriculum still needs to include the fact that sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted by more than just fluid to fluid contact (Revised 57), but also by skin to skin contact.
I thank the district for the revisions as they are certainly a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Theresa Frei is a Helena resident.