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The fervor over the Gervais School District’s human sexuality curriculum has died down in recent months, but the topic remains a regular talking point at monthly board meetings as the district seeks to hammer out the details of implementing its sexual education program.


The school board has met twice in the past month — once for its regularly monthly session Thursday, and previously on Oct. 29 with Brad Victor for a special meeting to discuss the school’s implementation of its health program. Victor is a former sexuality education program specialist with the Oregon Department of Education and has been working with Gervais as consultant for the district’s program.

“Mr. Victor was, frankly, everywhere we looked as an expert,” Superintendent Matt Henry said Thursday when discussing the district’s plan to seek out a sex ed program.

Victor has a wealth of experience working with schools and the ODE, and helped coordinate the WISE program (Working to Institutionalize Sex Education), which was brought to six Oregon schools, including Woodburn, that applied for a WISE grant in 2009.

WISE seeks to provide school districts with “medically accurate, age-appropriate sexuality education,” according to its March 2010 newsletter, and Victor echoed that statement when he worked with the Gervais School Board in October on a workshop to help them understand the basics of the WISE grant.

“Age-appropriate” was the first topic Victor discussed in October, in light of articles on Gervais’ condom policy that went viral and implied that all students in the school district from middle school through high school would receive the same educational material.

“This is sometimes lost in the conversation,” Victor said. “There are some things a 12- or 13-year-old needs to know, and there are some things a 17-to-18-year-old needs to know.”

Board member Molly McCargar countered that once students began participating in sexual activity, they have taken it upon themselves to decide what is age-appropriate. This was part of the board’s reasoning to adopt a policy in May making condoms available upon request to help combat the district’s struggles with teen pregnancy.

This decision prompted a number of district patrons to voice their opposition to the policy, and when Henry was hired over the summer, he requested that the district delay the implementation.

Henry wanted to give the administrative staff time to coordinate the best way to provide comprehensive sexual education while keeping an open dialogue with community members who wanted a voice on how the schools teach sex ed.

An unseen factor in delaying implementation was time to combat false information that continues to spread about the WISE grant and the sex ed program.

“Oftentimes, programs are characterized as exclusively encouraging the use of condoms,” Victor said. “This is incorrect and misleading.”

Victor stressed that the WISE grant emphasizes that abstinence is the best and healthiest choice to prevent pregnancy and the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases, but it should not exclude other forms of sexual education.

At the lowest education levels, the curriculum touches simply on things like hygiene, how germs and diseases are spread and how to report inappropriate touching. At higher grade levels, students learn family communication, anatomy, definitions of sexual intercourse and what actions come with the most risk.

“If (kids) don’t know what can put them at risk, they won’t know what to avoid,” Victor said. He told board members that community members will sometimes worry that if kids know about sex, they’ll be encouraged to engage in it, but pointed out that similar logic isn’t used when arguing for drug and alcohol education.

Henry also spoke out against a recent report that Gervais would be participating in the Adolescent Sexuality Conference (ASC) — a 38-year-old annual convention in Seaside that has received harsh criticism recently about some of the material that vendors provide at the conference. The ASC is one of three different annual conferences held in the state each year, and the ODE, as the WISE grant facilitator, has allowed WISE schools to use grant funding to participate in the conference at their discretion.

Henry stressed that the decision is entirely up to each school district, and made it known that Gervais would not be attending the ASC this April.

“Basically, Brad made it very clear that we can customize what we want to do in our community,” Henry said to the school board on Thursday. “You’ve probably seen some of the news, and I think for this year, it just seems like it’s the best thing … to not send people, and that’s completely fine.”

At Thursday’s meeting, the school board voted unanimously to approve a Memorandum of Understanding that Henry signed in September to implement the WISE grant through the end of the 2014-15 school year.

While the school district is receiving less feedback during its monthly meetings than it did over the summer, concerned citizens continue to voice their opinion on the subject.

Lorraine Martin, a Gervais alumnus with children enrolled in the school district, urged the school board Thursday to take up an abstinence-centered curriculum to stress sexual risk avoidance over sexual risk reduction.

“If we want the best outcomes for our students, and we want to see them become productive citizens, then (we should choose) whatever program points them toward abstinence.”

An additional component of delaying the district’s implementation of its human sexuality program was a desire to hear from community members. People may sign up to speak to the board during meetings, and Henry holds regular coffee hour meetings at his office during the month to speak one-on-one with the public.

In the end, the board has recognized that no program will receive 100-percent approval. Parents are free to withdraw students from sex ed based on religious, moral or content objections, but the board must fall within Oregon Administrative Rules and ORS that the district must provide comprehensive sexual education for all students.

“You have the right to withdraw your child,” Victor said in October. “You do not have the right to withdraw someone else’s child.”

Phil Hawkins covers sports and the city of Gervais. He can be reached at [email protected] woodburnindependent.com or 503-765-1194.

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