School districts working to implement state's required sex ed curriculum

Grant School District 3 board members discuss health education requirements at the Jan. 15 meeting.

Some local school districts are still working to implement new statewide health education standards that were supposed to take effect last school year.

According to Sasha Grenier, a sexuality education and school health specialist with the Oregon Department of Education, the state in 2018 began requiring school districts to comply with specific parts of the 2016 health education standards, which include LGBTQ inclusivity, consent, bullying and abuse prevention.

Grenier said, each year, school districts statewide attest that they are meeting all academic standards the state requires.

For the 2018-2019 school year, Grant County School District 3 reported it did not meet the state’s human sexuality guidelines at the elementary school level.

Long Creek School District Superintendent Karl Coghill, who recently stepped into the position, said the district is actively seeking curriculum that meets the required standards.

Dayville School District attested to the state that it is meeting the state’s guidelines, while Monument and Prairie districts have not reported whether the districts are meeting the state guideline. The deadline to report is Feb. 1.

Meeting the new requirements has its challenges, however, because there isn’t a single curriculum available that covers everything, Grenier said.

“Currently, there are no curricula available nationwide that meets all of Oregon’s health and sexuality education standards,” said Grenier.

Additionally, Grenier said, K-12 students are required to have four sessions of age-appropriate sex ed topics every year.

“Many teachers need the training to have the skills and comfort level to teach topics that include child abuse prevention, healthy relationships, friendships, LGBTQ inclusion,” she said.

Board members at the Grant School District meeting on Jan. 15 said teachers had expressed discomfort about teaching sex ed in the past.

A Humbolt teacher said, at most schools, there is a school nurse and a school counselor who are trained to teach the curriculum and answer difficult questions about sexuality, puberty and changing body parts. In a rural area like Grant County, where resources are scarce, the teacher said the responsibility falls on the teachers.

Heather Rookstool, county coordinator for My Future-My Choice, a sex ed curriculum that fills the gaps in the district’s curriculum, told the school board she taught the curriculum to seventh- and eighth-graders at Grant Union during spring semester last year.

Ryan Gerry, Grant Union Junior-Senior High School principal, said at the middle school and high school level, the school is in compliance with state.

“We have an adopted curriculum that has been approved by the state, and this curriculum is implemented at both the middle school and high school level,” said Gerry.

Grant School District Superintendent Brett Uptmor said the schools in the district would have a curriculum that meets the standards by the end of the school year.

Rookstool said My Future-My Choice is funded through a grant, and other schools would not have to pay her for the service.

Grant County Education Service District Business Manager Stacie Holmstrom said the program currently has about $5,000 in funding.

Rookstool said, for many of the students, sex ed classes are the only place where they can learn and talk about the topics the curriculum covers.

“Seventh-grade kids have not received any sexuality education for a year,” Rookstool said. “There needs to be a human sexuality curriculum every year.”

According to Humboldt Elementary Principal Darbie Dennison, Rookstool will begin teaching a fifth- and sixth-grade My Future-My Choice class. Dennison said parents will be notified and given the option to pull their kids from the class.

Rookstool said it is rare that parents pull their kids from the course in the eight years that she has taught the curriculum.

“Most parents are grateful that we teach their kids about these topics,” she said. “These are uncomfortable conversations for a lot of parents and kids, but at the same time they are necessary.”

My Future-My Choice takes a “positive youth development” approach to teaching the curriculum where half of the course is taught by teens.

Fallen Bolman, a senior at Grant Union, has been teaching the curriculum for three years with Rookstool. Bolman teaches the portion of the curriculum that covers bullying prevention and healthy relationships.

As of the 2018-2019 school year, 20 school districts out of 197 school districts across the state self-report not having a sex ed curriculum that meets state guidelines, according to Grenier.

In other Grant School District news:

• John Day City Manager Nick Green asked the school district to consider partnering with the city, Grant County and John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation District on a cost-sharing agreement to build an aquatic and recreation center at the west end of the Seventh Street Complex. Green said the total construction costs would be about $4.5 million. Green is proposing the four agencies apply for a 40-year loan from the USDA.

“We need other agencies to pull this off,” said Green.

Green said the proposal could be put on the ballot in November.

• Uptmor said the high school needs to hire a Spanish teacher, and the elementary school needs a math teacher before the start of the next school year.

• Gerry, also the high school athletic director, said the boys basketball team was recognized for excellent sportsmanship by the Oregon School Activities Association.

Gerry said the girls cross country team would be recognized for academic achievement at the high school’s pride assembly.

• Uptmor submitted grant applications for repairs at the high school and elementary school this month.

At the high school, the district submitted an application for $1.3 million for seismic retrofitting and new bleachers. For the elementary school, the district applied for a $38,000 grant for new heating units.

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Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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