Hillsboro School Board approves sex ed plan
The Hillsboro School Board unanimously voted to approve the district's new comprehensive sexuality education plan after a more than three-hour meeting Tuesday night, Oct. 29.
The vote caps off a nearly year-long process of creating the plan, which will guide how educators in the district teach sex ed and sexual violence prevention for the next two years, as multiple Oregon laws require.
The plan has been contentious since the district made its curriculum public before a board meeting on Sept. 24.
Proponents say the district has made important changes since its last plan by including new language about sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as grade-level specific lessons about healthy relationships and abuse prevention. Kindergarteners will learn about what should be considered inappropriate touching, for example.
Opponents say the plan goes beyond the state's requirements, will expose kids to information about sex too early and that it ignores religious beliefs about homosexuality.
Hundreds of people showed up to the meeting on Tuesday in Glencoe High School's auditorium. Administrators opted to move the meeting to the high school from its typical meeting place at the district offices, anticipating heavy turnout.
At times, the Oct. 29 meeting felt more like a political rally than a school board meeting. The number of people for and against the plan in the room was about equal, and people with differing views sat side-by-side. But the split became clear when people clapped and cheered after a comment they liked.
Some people waved yellow "Vote No" signs, while others held up posters that read "Sex Ed for All."
Members of the group Basic Rights Oregon set up a table outside the auditorium and wore T-shirts that said "Protect Trans Kids."
The district made translating devices available for Spanish-speaking attendees as people signed up to speak during the public comment period.
Two hours of public comment only allowed for about half of the 90 people who signed up to speak. People were given three minutes if they were speaking for themselves and five minutes if they were speaking on behalf of a group, according to the board's normal rules. The board shut off the microphone at times when people continued speaking after their time expired.
The audience was mostly respectful of comments, with only a few interruptions from the crowd.
Supporters' comments focused on the need to include the LGBTQ community in sex ed.
"It provides unbiased education on the spectrum of gender and sexual identities, and as a queer student in the district, this would have helped me come to terms with my own identity much sooner and saved me a lot of trauma and processing that I've gone through," said a senior from Glencoe High School.
Supporters also frequently brought up how the plan includes information that will help prevent sexual abuse.
"Thank you for listening to prosecutors who put abusers behind bars, who told you that giving children, from day one, the correct language for describing their bodies is a simple yet vital tool to protect themselves from predators," said Dayna Willms, vice president of the Minter Bridge Elementary PTA executive board.
Two pastors of local churches voiced their support for the plan.
"In our church, a similar comprehensive sex education program that was authored for our youth and children has made our church safer from abuse, giving them accurate and age-appropriate language to talk about their bodies as well as concepts like safe touch and consent," said the Rev. Adam Hange of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hillsboro. Hange said LGBTQ members of the church and their parents have told him they would feel safer with the plan enacted.
Opponents primarily took issue with specific lessons in the plan. Many people said they agree sex ed is important but that certain parts of the plan were too explicit for elementary school students.
"What I can say disturbs me the most is what is being done to elementary ages," said Kimberly Scott, a parent of students in the district. "They're afraid of you seeing them with no shirt on. Their modesty is important to them. We put their innocent minds and lives in your hands. The school board is supposed to stand up for the parents of children in the community."
Opponents also said they have felt excluded from the process of creating the plan.
"You've been told that this material conforms to the state's requirements for inclusive material," said one parent. "However, I would suggest to you that you have before you a prima facie evidence that in fact it does not, that thousands of your constituents, thousands of the people in your district are telling you that this excludes them."
Before the public comment period, Travis Reiman, assistant superintendent for academic services, described the district's process in creating the plan.
He said since the plan was made public more than a month ago, the district asked administrators from each school to review the materials, keeping the comments they've gotten from teachers, parents and other community members in mind.
"Teams of administrators and staff have looked over our plan to ask the question, 'In what way could we possibly have overreached or overstepped what the standards require us to teach,'" Reiman said.
He pointed out that Ely Sanders, an education specialist at the Oregon Department of Education, sent a letter to the district on Oct. 24 approving of the district's process of stakeholder engagement. Sanders also said the plan aligns with state requirements.
Reiman said many lessons in the plan have changed in response to comments from the community.
One seventh-grade lesson that was changed included an activity in which students were asked to hold up cards that said "myth" or "fact."
"In certain cases, they were worried their kid would have to call something they've been taught at home a myth, like that people choose their sexual orientation," Reiman said in an interview. "Based on medical research and health education practices, we teach that it's a fact that you don't choose who you're attracted to and that your sexual orientation is part of who you are."
The district removed the requirement for students to hold up the signs.
Changes to the plan have been made in red text on the lesson documents available at the district's website so people can easily see them. They're also summarized in the "frequently asked questions" section online.
Multiple opponents of the plan thanked the district at the meeting Tuesday for making the changes. But they said the changes didn't go far enough.
During their comments before the vote, multiple board members expressed confidence that they, along with administrators, have read all feedback and addressed potential issues with the plan.
"There were some very big changes made, and I feel like it's very 'middle ground,' as much as we're probably going to get," said board member Jaci Spross.
Lisa Allen said "the board has had a laser focus on ensuring that the final plan meets the standards for the state of Oregon and in no way exceeds them.
"We have a plan to vote on tonight that promotes lifelong health, encourages healthy relationships, reduces the likelihood of sexual violence and abuse, supports self-esteem, advocates for acceptance of others, and fosters healthy boundaries and self-advocacy for students, but ultimately, if a family doesn't like the sound of that, then they can opt-out," Allen said.
Each board member thanked people for their comments, saying it shows that everyone cares about the issue.
They said they respect parents' right to opt out of sex ed for their children, and they will continue working to make sure it's done without stigma.
"I have met with a number of parents who really are in a better position to provide a better curriculum for their individual families, and the opt-out process is really designed to meet that need," said Martin Granum, the school board's vice chairman.
Multiple board members encouraged parents to stay involved and keep the conversation going.
In less than two years, the district will start the process of updating the comprehensive sexuality education plan.
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