While the Oregon Department of Education updated sexuality education standards in 2016, Canby School District is being cautious about making big changes.
The new standards
The newest standards mandate that schools teach "comprehensive sexuality education." Broadly, according to Oregon's Human Sexuality Education law, this includes promoting abstinence but not to the exclusion of teaching about contraception and disease prevention.
But many of the new standards are subtle changes from what Canby currently teaches, according to Ivonne Dibblee, Canby School District's Director of Teaching and Learning who is spearheading the process of bringing Canby into compliance with state sex ed standards.
For example, in grades 6-8, the standards require students to learn the impact of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs on unintentional injury. Dibblee said Canby's curriculum currently covers the impact of drugs on unintentional injury, but does not address the impacts of alcohol or tobacco.
As another example for grades 6-8, the standards require students to learn the differences between biological sex, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. In Canby, the curriculum covers biological sex, but does not address sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
In these grades, Canby's curriculum also does not dive deep into eating disorders and the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and it does not cover the role of lifelong fitness activities in maintaining quality of life and longevity.
Making the changes
The first step in getting Canby up to standard is to address sex ed in grades 6-12, Dibblee said, before making any changes in grades K-5.
To do this, Dibblee said at a recent board meeting that throughout the last school year, she worked with teachers and administrators to gauge the need for new curriculum or other supports.
Through that process, Dibblee discovered that teachers at the 6-12 grade levels are satisfied with the current curricula. In sixth grade, teachers use The Great Body Shop. In middle school, it's The Great Body Shop and Scholastic Choices magazine, plus Character Strong for social-emotional learning. In high school, teachers use Glencoe Health and Suicide Awareness Curriculum.
Dibblee said that there are no plans to adopt any new curriculum for these grades. Instead, the district will focus this year on professional development, continuing to dissect what standards aren't being met and how to achieve the level of exposure to sex ed the state is requiring.
Currently, the state is requiring high school students to take classes all four years related to comprehensive sex ed, but in order to graduate in Canby, students are only required to take two years of health classes.
While the state is requiring the four years of classes, the state did not provide additional funding to make that happen. So, Dibblee suggested the district will look at whether students can meet requirements through classes other than health during the additional two years.
While grades 6-12 will not see new curriculum, there will likely be a curriculum change in the future for grades K-5.
"Yes we are out of compliance at this time, but we won't be forever," said Autumn Foster, the district's communications coordinator. "We do get to a point where we have to work through and make sure that we are delivering a high-quality education in all content areas."
Parents have a say
But the K-5 changes won't happen this year and they won't happen without the district reaching out for parent input, according to Dibblee and Foster.
"I think there is a general sense sometimes that parents don't have a voice and they're shut out of the process, and so we're working really hard to change that," Foster said.
"We will engage the community," Foster added. "People are always welcome to share their feedback with us regardless of what it's about. But there's nothing specific to K-5 sex ed right now that we're implementing or changing, so people can share their feedback, but it's not anything different than what we've been doing and it won't be different for a little while."
Part of the reason for delaying changes in grades K-5 is that other new curriculum adoptions have already taken place in these grades. Dibblee wants to support those teachers and not overwhelm them with more new curriculum just yet.
For parents, in addition to the opportunity to give input before the new curriculum comes, parents also have other avenues to help them understand and even control what their students are learning at school in regard to sex ed.
Number one, the district's door is always open for parents to communicate with teachers, principals and administrators.
"There certainly can be some misleading or confusing information out there about what is required and about what is being taught in our schools," Foster said, "so we really would just invite people to engage in a conversation with us directly when they have a question so we can ensure they're getting accurate information and that they're not receiving any misleading or biased information that they might come across."
Also for parents' sakes, Dibblee said the district will begin a new process of communication, which includes alerting families to times when certain standards will come up so that parents have the opportunity to opt their children out.
Dibblee has also started a blog to keep the community up to date at canbyhealthadoption.blogspot.com/.
"People have called and they have reached out when they have concerns or questions, and I would continue to hope that we keep those lines of communication open," Dibblee said. "I just really do believe that transparency in the process is how we begin to build trust about what's happening. I've gotten the sense that sometimes parents might be nervous about having curriculum that they just have no understanding about…and that is why communication is so important."
Process is in good hands
Sex ed is a touchy subject for parents and the latest standards make big demands, but through the changes, Superintendent Trip Goodall indicated Dibblee has been an asset to the district.
"I think Dr. Dibblee has done a really exemplary job of walking in; it was a year in process already," Goodall said, "and she took the time to really do an in-depth analysis of where we are as a district and really took control of the process in a way that I really appreciate. So thank you."
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