'The safety of our students is paramount'
This story has been updated from its original version.
It's not typical that 150 people show up to a Lake Oswego School Board meeting. By the start of the meeting Monday Dec. 16, the boardroom had reached maximum capacity and people were directed to one of two overflow rooms. A stack of comment cards sat before school board chair Rob Wagner, and more would trickle in throughout the meeting.
Over 40 of those community members attended the meeting to give public comment supporting the district's adoption of a new sex education curriculum — in anticipation of a parents' rights group's opposition of the curriculum.
In an opening remark — addressing the elephant in the room — Wagner said, "I think it's important to note that the state of Oregon requires local school boards to adopt curriculum in alignment with state law. One issue that can be contentious around the state is Oregon's Human Sexuality Education curriculum."
In 2018, the district approved the "Great Body Shop" curriculum as well as a support curriculum and an updated program exemption policy. The Great Body Shop is a comprehensive health education curriculum that is aligned with state and national standards for health education.
In 2015, National Health Education Standards were revised for the first time since 1995, with one major adjustment being the creation of a chapter on equity and access for students. In response, Oregon Department of Education adopted new health standards for the state in 2016 and the Great Body Shop curriculum was adopted by Lake Oswego to comply with those standards.
"Lake Oswego School District is not only about achieving compliance, but actively engages in initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion — in fact that is the number one strategic priority of the school district," Wagner said.
He made clear the LOSD has no plans to revisit the curriculum that was adopted.
"Our mission is to provide safe and inclusive schools for each and every student in our care. The safety of our students is paramount," Wagner said.
Public comments from students past and present, teachers, parents and community members expressed allyship with the LGBTQ+ community and support of a curriculum that acknowledges and validates them.
Margarita Evart, a resident of Lake Oswego said, "I am the parent of the first out trans kid in LO." She shared her support for the curriculum and continued, " I am only sad that it has taken so long and that other children have suffered as much as mine has."
Penelope Spurr, a student at Lake Oswego High School said, "I wanted to support this education and just support the board's decision. As a student I know how important it is to reinforce that our community is founded on tolerance (and) on acceptance. A lense of alliance and love is of utmost importance in a national atmosphere right now that can be so tense."
Sheena Bea, a recent graduate of Lakeridge High School said, "I am here dressed in full drag to advocate for the rights of my fellow queer and trans members of the communty." Bea continued, "For a long time I didn't understand my gender or my identity … It can be especially confusing and dangerous for young ones questioning their gender."
Bea and many others cited statistics of suicide rates within the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ youth are affected by suicide ideation at almost three times the rate and attempt suicide at almost five times the rate of their straight and cisgender peers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Trevor Project, a national organization for crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ young people.
Many voiced their support for the direction the district is moving in and urged them to continue making progress towards inclusivity.
Despite rumors of parents rallying to attack the curriculum at the meeting — which prompted alarm from groups like Basic Rights Oregon, Planned Parenthood and NARAL — very few people spoke out against the curriculum. Those who questioned it had concerns that did not directly relate to the LGBTQ+ curriculum.
Michael Alexander, a resident of Lake Oswego, said, "I think a lot of people who are asking for review of the optional materials, it doesn't mean they are anti-LGBT by any means. The baseline curriculum, I think, does a very good job of covering the LGBT topics. The Great Body Shop is great material. However, the optional material, I think, introduces too much sexual content at an early age and it's too much too soon." He continued, "state law requires age-appropriate material and the optional material pushes the envelope."
Others asked the district to consider an opt-in stance instead of opt-out stance on optional curriculum. The district, meanwhile, noted that what the Great Body Shop (a national curriculum) labels as "optional" lessons are actually not; the lessons are mandated by state law.
After public comments, Superintendent Lora de la Cruz said, "I just so appreciate the public comment tonight and the authentic sharing from such personal stories. I feel compelled to say that as the leader of this school district, my leadership for equity means that I believe in the inclusion and the rights of students of all abilities, disabilities, races, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, sexual orientation and languages — so in other words, when I say 'each and every child' I'm talking about every student in our care and that for me is not a political statement. It's a statement of humanity and it's what I lead from."
To learn more about the Great Body Shop, visit www.thegreatbodyshop.net
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