East Grand OKs sex ed pilot program as debate continues

East Grand School District is looking at a new sex education curriculum in line with a new state law requiring LGBTQ inclusive lessons among other mandates.
Sky-Hi News file photo

Middle Park High School hasn’t been offering sexual education classes this year with the school district mired in a contentious debate over its sex ed curriculum.

It’s rare that a school board takes such a microscopic interest in a specific subject, and fields like math and English don’t really spark the same kinds of discussions, board members and school administrators acknowledged during Monday’s meeting. However, those subjects are not sex ed.

Across the district, students have been without sex ed instruction as the district looks to update the curriculum in accordance with state guidelines. The district’s curriculum is more than 20 years old and out of date. Also hanging in the balance is grant funding that the district received this year covering the training and implementation of “a comprehensive human sexual education program,” along with some teacher pay.

“It would be impactful to not move forward in some way, shape or form with a comprehensive human sexuality curriculum,” Middle Park Assistant Principal Vicki Sordyl told the board in response to a question about the district failing to adhere to state guidelines.

And so the East Grand Board of Education voted 4-2 Monday night to approve a pilot program for the freshman class only, which will allow ninth-graders at Middle Park High School to resume sex ed instruction while the board continues to vet the new curriculum. Any parents who have issues can opt their children out of the lesson plans.

Before the decision to proceed with a limited pilot program, some board members asked district administrators and staff for more information about how a committee came to pick the new sex ed curriculum and what options the board might have before signing off on it for grades K-12.

Two board members — Trevor Corbin and Angel Higginbotham— expressed deep frustration with the proposed curriculum and the way district staff presented information before the board. They and other board members wanted a bullet point roundup detailing how the committee compared a handful of different curriculum sets and how they align with state requirements.

Significant criticism has surfaced surrounding the proposed update to the school district’s sex ed programs. Most of the complaints have focused on the way the curriculum handles issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, especially among the younger grade levels. Others have taken offense with the way anti-abortion clinics are characterized as “fake pregnancy centers” in the curriculum.

“As a community leader for 26 years, it really bothered me that this curriculum has campaigns against pregnancy centers,” said June Matson of the Pregnancy Resource Connection in Granby as she asked the board to reject the proposed curriculum.

“This curriculum is highly, highly connected with Planned Parenthood,” she continued. “There are all kinds of curriculum out there that doesn’t have an agenda as this one does. I know y’all don’t like the word ‘agenda,’ but this curriculum is full of it from the very beginning.”

Saying she was only speaking for herself, Amy Chamberlin, a teacher of 20 years, replied that there are a lot of amazing, talented teachers in the district and decisions about curriculum are made based on data and educators’ expertise.

“It is amazing to me — I was an English teacher — and I was lucky we didn’t have to go though this type of thing to adopt curriculum because we trusted the experts,” Chamberlin said.

East Grand Health and Wellness coordinator and physical education teacher James Williams suggested that local implementation of the new curriculum would be as critical as the lesson plans themselves and that the district could adjust the curriculum in line with state requirements to better suit local needs and values.

“One thing that I’m trying to wrap my head around, the negativity toward the curriculum, is the issue actually with state standards?” Williams asked, explaining that the district’s hands could be tied and best option might be for some parents to opt their children out.

“I’m hearing specific things — ‘We don’t want our third-grader to be learning this thing,’” Williams continued. “To me, that’s supper simple — let’s just adapt it if it’s not required by the state. If it is required by the state, (that’s) also super simple, opt your kid out for that lesson … There are options for everybody along the way.”

While the district proceeds with a limited pilot program for the ninth-graders, the discussion is expected to continue at the next board meeting.

Over the phone Thursday, East Grand Superintendent Frank Reeves stressed the district serves roughly 1,300 students and has well qualified teachers whose primary mission is to offer information to the students. He added that the schools and teachers often tweak lessons to better serve their students, and the district won’t be saying anything negative about local agencies like the Pregnancy Resource Connection.

“I think it’s important to understand that in our district we have 1,300 kids, and that covers a broad range of beliefs, morals, values and those systems,” Reeves said. “Really, we see this and our job as providing kids information and doing it within the guidelines of the law and standards. (Our job is) not to be opinionated or say one thing is right or wrong, but to provide the kids information.”

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