Teaching of gender identity remains a concern among some parents, and curriclum varying from school to school

Every seat in the Meridian Creek Middle School cafeteria was quickly filled as parents and community members gathered to learn about curriculum and share their thoughts at West Linn-Wilsonville School District's fifth health and sexual education community meeting Jan. 22.SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO - West Linn-Wilsonville School Board is expected to hear a summary of the new wellness and sexual educaiton curriulum Feb. 4

Throughout 2018, the district held four meetings for community members to give their feedback on the new health and wellness education plan, which will be presented to the school board Feb. 4.

Last year, the WL-WV School District began updating its comprehensive health and wellness education plan in response to the State Board of Education's adoption of new health education standards, which required all schools in the state to create new plans for health curriculum by the end of the 2018-19 school year.

The district has already begun to incorporate the community's feedback into the plan. Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Barb Soisson laid out the main points of concern brought up by parents at the previous four meetings and how each one has already been addressed by the district.

The district decided to not use FLASH curriculum (sex education curriculum developed by Seattle and King County Public Health Department) at middle and high school levels after community members voiced concern that some of the lessons were overly

suggestive and age-inappropriate.

Soisson also emphasized that teachers are not to insert their personal values and beliefs into lessons to ensure that health lessons are the same for every class in each grade throughout the district. This was a big worry among parents at the community meeting in May.

Another prominent concern at meetings was the teaching of gender identity, which is required by Oregon Department of Education's health education standards.

To these concerns, Soisson said "Classroom comfort is a priority. For the topic of gender identity, the context for any discussion is 'we want every human being in the classroom to feel accepted and like they belong.'"

To ensure comfort for everyone, teaching definitions of gender and sexual identity is necessary, Soisson said.

"Sometimes at certain ages, kids will use language like 'Oh, well that's gay' and you'll have things that come across to students that can be offensive," Soisson said.

The way to stop offensive language is to teach kids what these words actually mean.

Still, teaching gender and sexual identity remained a concern with some parents. One parent believed teachers did not need to teach acceptance of a variety of genders and sexualities specifically when they could teach acceptance of all people and leave it at that.

"I'm not going to guide my son into becoming a girl (by teaching him gender identity) when God created a boy," another parent said.

While the district will teach definitions and concepts around sexuality to promote understanding and tolerance of a diversity of people, it will not allow demonstrations or role playing of material related

to sexual activity, which was another area of parent concern.

Though the district maintains that all curriculum will be age-appropriate, parents wondered who determines what is appropriate for what age.

One group of parents suggested that boys and girls be split up for sex education lessons, at least at the middle school level.

Many parents voiced their support for teaching consent from a young age. As early as Kindergarten, kids will learn they decide who is allowed to touch them.

"I appreciate that they are learning they are in charge of themselves," one father said. "Kids should be allowed to say 'no' to hugs that make them uncomfortable."

District officials will consider the community's feedback before it presents the new health and wellness plan to the school board Feb. 4.

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