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Student voices make biggest impact on board's decision to adopt new curriculum that conforms to state mandates

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Parents and community members gathered outside of Meridian Creek Middle School ahead of the Feb. 25 school board meeting to protest adoption of the comprehensive sex-eduation plan. After four-and-a-half hours of discussion and testimony from parents, community members and students, the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board voted unanimously Feb. 25 to adopt the Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education Plan.

The commons area at Meridian Creek Middle School was full of emotion as students and parents shared stories of bullying, harassment and sexual assault to demonstrate their support or opposition of the plan.

The effot has been in the works for the past two years, since the state adopted new health and wellness curriculum standards in 2016.

At Monday's board meeting, several parents and community members expressed concern that some components of the new curriculum were too sexually explicit. Others disliked that the plan includes teachings about sexual and gender identity.

Some parents thought some of the topics in the curriculum were too sensitive for school and ought to be taught by parents at home.

WL-WV Assistant Superintendents Barb Soisson and Jennifer Spencer-Iiams addressed this concern by assuring parents that they always have the choice to opt their child out of certain sex-ed lessons without any impact on their student's grade.

State Reps. Rachel Prusak and Courtney Neron — a nurse and a teacher, respectively — were on hand to voice their support.

In the end, it was the testimony of students that had the biggest impact on the board's decision.

"I had the opportunity to speak with a diverse group of students from two of our high schools,and what I gained from that experience probably forms my decision on this curriculum," said board member Regan Molatore. "It's really hard to disregard the students' voice and their asks."

In their discussions with the board members, students were overwhelmingly in support of adopting the curriculum. Many of them couldn't help but wonder how much they could have benefited from receiving these lessons earlier.

"I spoke to the students and they're not divided like we are. I heard one voice from the students and that was 'we want more information and we want it earlier,'" said Board Vice Chair Dylan Hydes. "There was one student I spoke with who was in 11th grade. She said that if she knew what consent was earlier in life, she'd be a lot happier now."

Students told board members they want more information about sex and want it earlier. If students don't receive the information they need, they will seek it out themselves. Often the resource they turn to is the internet. But students said they would rather receive this information from someone they trust, like a health teacher. Many students felt that the information they did learn in school was too little, too late.

Board member Chelsea King Martin used results from the Oregon Healthy Teen Survey and Oregon Student Wellness Survey along with the testimony of students to inform her vote.

She learned from the surveys and the student feedback, that whether or not students are taught about sex, consent and gender identity in school, these topics will affect their lives. More education and earlier education on these subjects will only better equip students to handle them safely and responsibly when the time comes, she said.

King Martin cited the 2017 Oregon Healthy Teen Survey, which found that, "in Clackamas County, 9 percent of eighth-graders reported being sexually active and 45 percent of 11th-graders. Of these students who were sexually active, 17 percent of eighth-

graders either did not use (contraceptives), or did not

use a condom or they did not know whether or not they did."

According to King Martin, more than 13 percent of WL-WV eighth-graders reported on the 2017 Oregon Student Wellness Survey that they were teased or bullied within the past 30 days because someone thought they were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Over 11 percent of 11th-graders in the district reported the same.

"When I spoke with our high schoolers, they wanted to learn about gender identity earlier," King Martin said. "They witnessed harassment in middle school about gender identity, and they felt that learning about gender identity even before middle school would be valuable."

The Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education Plan will be part of the district's health and wellness curriculum for the 2018-19 school year through 2020-21.

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