Parents protest Hillsboro School District sex ed plan
About 100 community members filled the room at the Tuesday evening, Sept. 24, meeting of the Hillsboro School Board to protest the district's new sex education plan.
Parents wore "We Care" stickers and urged board members for more than an hour during audience participation not to adopt the proposed Comprehensive Sexuality Education Plan.
The district has been developing the plan, which was published online a few hours before the meeting, for nearly a year. Board members will consider whether to adopt the plan when they meet Oct. 29.
Oregon doesn't provide statewide sex ed curriculum. Instead, Oregon law requires school districts to develop plans based on science to teach sex ed and violence prevention every two years.
The Hillsboro School District's new plan differs from previous plans in that it includes grade-level specific curriculum for students from kindergarten through high school, according to Travis Reiman, assistant superintendent for academic services.
Reiman said it also includes more specific lessons about gender identity, healthy relationships and how to prevent sexual violence, in accordance with Oregon law.
Multiple parents said they think the plan encourages sexual relationships, and they would rather abstinence be the focus. Oregon law says abstinence should be promoted in sex ed lessons, but abstinence can't be taught exclusively.
Parents also said the plan isn't age-appropriate, as Oregon law requires. They said they don't want their kids being taught information about gender identity they don't agree with.
During his report to the board, Reiman emphasized that research shows sex ed helps students prevent sexual assault, delay sexual initiation, reduce unintended pregnancies and prevent sexually transmitted infections. He also said students who are taught about gender identity and sexual orientation are less likely to attempt suicide.
More than 90% of parents in Oregon approve of sex ed, according to the Oregon Department of Education.
Curriculum for the youngest students focuses mostly on preventing sexual abuse rather than what people typically associate with sex ed, Reiman said.
In February, Oregon Department of Education director Colt Gill sent a letter to each school district in the state reminding administrators of their obligation to create comprehensive sex ed plans.
If the Hillsboro School District doesn't adopt the plan next month, the district could be penalized by the state.
"We would have to notify our community that in this area we aren't compliant with Oregon law," Reiman said. "We need to stay in good standing in terms of our compliance with laws, and we do that by reporting that we are compliant."
Reiman spent much of his presentation showing board members the process of creating the plan, which was reviewed and approved in a 6-1 vote by the Citizens' Curriculum Advisory Committee.
This year, CCAC members met with officials from multiple local and state agencies such as the Oregon Health Authority to learn about the latest sexual health and education research.
Reiman said ODE officials have been supportive of the district's plan. Sasha Grenier, sexuality and health education specialist with ODE, who also met with CCAC, was not available for comment.
Reiman said Grenier reminded committee members "sexuality education isn't really all about sex it's about who we are, what our rights are, how we express ourselves, how we build healthy relationships and how we access healthcare."
At the board meeting, CCAC chair Rebecca Nelson said working on the plan was a learning process for all committee members because research about sexuality education has advanced substantially.
"I think one of the things that I definitely want everybody to know about the CCAC is that we are a very diverse group of people — we don't all think the same," Nelson said. Each committee member is approved by the board. Administrators try to ensure that people with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds are represented on the CCAC, Reiman said.
"I consider myself to be somebody of faith," Nelson said. "I believe that we need to have a program that is inclusive of everybody. And in order to do that, we do have to open it up to things that maybe we are not so comfortable with."
Audience members — half of whom had to stand in the back because there weren't enough chairs — remained quiet through the first hour of the discussion. Multiple people filmed the meeting on their phones. Starting toward the end of Joe Everton's comments, audience members began to clap and cheer whenever someone voiced concern about the plan. Everton was the only committee member to vote against the plan.
When board chairwoman Erika Lopez tried to reduce audience participation to two and a half minutes per person because of the large number of people who signed up to speak, the audience scolded her. People shouted, "Let her finish," when Lopez tried to enforce the typical three-minute limit.
Everton said that while he agrees sex ed is important for students who can't learn it at home, he doesn't agree that everything in the plan is necessary to promote health and safety among the youngest students.
Oregon law permits parents to opt out of sex ed, and the audience applauded Everton when he said he plans to opt out of certain curriculum for his kids. The audience cheered louder when he said he would consider pulling his kids out of school completely if the curriculum was too heavily integrated into other subjects.
Although the meeting was dominated by comments from adults, several students spoke as well.
Andrew Goodwin, a Glencoe High School student and representative to the board, said he supports the plan's lessons about healthy relationships and bullying prevention.
"We all think of bullying as just being one-dimensional, like bullying others on the playground or shoving other students into lockers, but it goes a lot deeper than that," Goodwin said.
Pedro Roman, a Century High School student and CCAC member, said it's undeniable that sex is everywhere in our society, and it's the district's responsibility to teach students how to be safe and healthy.
"Kids will find out about it one way or another, if it's through a teacher, or not through a teacher, through peers that are uneducated," Roman said.
Audience members groaned when Danny Adzima, a Miller Education Center student and representative to the board, asked if students had the right to opt in to sex ed against their parents' wishes.
Reiman said the law gives parents the freedom to decide for the child until they're 18 years old.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.