The issue of sex education including sexual health and sexuality was one of the more controversial issues that the school committee dealt with in the 2018-2019 school year.
What curriculum would you endorse and why?
Cara Berg Powers:
The WISH (Worcester Impact on Sexual Health) Taskforce is community members, leaders, service providers, youth workers, community-based organizations, faith leaders, policy-makers and others, including representatives of 14 respected and connected community organizations. This group met, deliberated, researched, and brought their collective expertise, perspective, and concerns together to make recommendations to the district on what curriculum would best support our shared goals of lowering STIs and teen pregnancies, increasing healthy relationships, and supporting overall social emotional health I would respect the recommendations made to us by a group of respected community members who are experts in this field and deeply invested in the health of the young people in our community. I would also ensure that any curriculum we pass meet the standards of the Healthy Youth Act, championed by Representative Jim O’Day, and supported by many other members of our delegation, including Senator Harriette Chandler. The Healthy Youth Act:
Ensures districts that offer sex education teach age-appropriate, medically accurate information;
Requires those districts to teach consent, the benefits of delaying sex, how to build healthy relationships, and how to prevent pregnancy and STIs when a person does have sex;
Requires the curricula used be LGBTQ-inclusive; and
Enhances the ability of parents and guardians to exempt their children from school-based sex ed.
As the mother of a six year old daughter and a survivor of childhood sexual assault, this issue is deeply personal to me. It is critical that our children get the information that they need to make safe, healthy choices about their bodies and to treat their peers with respect and dignity. As a longtime educator, I’ve also seen the dangerous impacts of abstinence only and abstinence based education on the young people I work with and their opportunities. We can and must do better.
Sex ed was the very reason that made me finally say that I needed to run for School Committee here in Worcester. The issue was (transparency) that neither the parents, students or the administration actually saw a curriculum to even make a sound choice about it.
From what I know of both curriculum the Michigan Model (it would teach abstinence) and the Making Proud Choices (it would teach consent, it would be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ youth). I would go with the Making Proud Choices because it speaks to what is going on in our students lives now. Our children here in Worcester need to know and understand healthy boundaries and what consent is. We need to not be afraid to speak about the things (sex) that make us uncomfortable. Either we teach our students or the world will teach our students (and we don't want that) we have an opportunity to speak with and educate our students and parents in a responsible manner. We need to change the way it was (no speaking of it at all) we need to be more open to the way the times are changing (we have the internet now and things are at our students finger tips) We as School Committee and Adminstration need to Make it a Priority to Educate our Students about the Real in the World.
I believe we can all agree that Worcester Public Schools needs a comprehensive sexual education curriculum. I am frequently in the schools and having discussions with the staff, who agree students need additional information and guidance to make healthy choices. After much discussion with Health teachers, who are on the front line every day, I believe Worcester needs to look at forming our own curriculum. In following Worcester’s 5 point curriculum we can make sure we include students, parents, administration, teachers, and members of the community to participate in this process. I believe approaching the curriculum in this way will allow us to evaluate and make any necessary changes as needed. Worcester has developed successful curriculum in the past and I have no doubt we can develop a Sex Education curriculum tailored to the needs of the students of Worcester.
The discussion regarding the proposed curriculum for sexual education deserved a transparent, public process and not the inappropriate, and probably illegal, “behind the scenes” planning conducted by the superintendent and two school committee members. The public has the right to hear a full debate regarding the different curricula proposed for WPS students.
In evaluating the different curricula to be considered, I look at the data, the recommendations from professionals directly involved in this area, and the students.
The data is clear that Worcester is seeing an unacceptable rise in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and high rates of teen pregnancy. In response to this, the Worcester Impact on Sexual Health (WISH) task force was created with experienced professionals and organizations from our community who work with young people and understand the issues to be addressed. I will always turn to professionals such as WISH and to Worcester’s outstanding commissioner of Public Health for their recommendations for the right curriculum for our schools.
I also know from many conversations with students, and from my own children as graduates of the Worcester Public Schools, that the information currently provided is woefully inadequate and incomplete. The first issue to address is time and I am hopeful that the infusion of new state support for public education will give us the opportunity to expand time for health classes across several grades.
I support a curriculum that provides comprehensive, accurate, age-appropriate, and inclusive sexual education in our schools. I also support an opt-out provision for families to select, if they so desire. This is valuable information for these young people to have now and later in their lives. We cannot ignore the facts that are presented to us. The data supports the need for this comprehensive curriculum. The professionals working closest with these young people support it and the young people themselves have told us how important this information is to them.
I am fully supportive of a comprehensive sex Ed curriculum that encompasses topics such as consent, reproductive rights, safe sex, sexual health, and one that is LGBTQ inclusive. It is our responsibility as committee members to work together with health educators, parents and community stakeholders to initiate a curriculum that is appropriate and comprehensive for the students in WPS. While the previous conversations on this topic became heated, I believe that we can all work together to right for our students and our community. And just like with any class, we have to have the right teachers teaching them so that students feel comfortable having conversations and asking questions.
I support a sex-education model that is age and developmentally appropriate and one that will encourage parents not to opt out of the program. We all know that this is an issue that needs to be addressed for according to the data there is a problem in our city with sexual transmitted diseases. Thus, the schools will have to step up and be part of the solution.
Once we hear from the state on their guidelines this fall I would suggest that we move forward with a comprehensive sexual education model. I would then suggest that students, parents and the community review the new curriculum at the end of the 2020 school year and make further recommendations.
Also, that this school year we do the following:
· Health teachers and school leadership receive training to address the needs of our LBGTQ students by DESE to ensure the delivery of instructional support to all students…
· Expand access to health classes in grades 7-8 … I would like to see every student in grade nine and 10 be involved in a 10 week sex education course instead of it just being an elective course as it is at the present time in grade 9. Those first two years of high school are pivotal times in the life of a teen. The key component to the course has to be about safety, how to avoid sexual transmitted diseases, pregnancy, and respecting the rights of all individuals.
Since the Worcester School Committee never went through a full curricular evaluation process, being short-circuited by members who were deliberating outside of public sessions, I would begin by endorsing a public curricular process. This must be done appropriately with recommendations by public health educators and professionals, in public sessions, with a full vetting and deliberation in public by the Worcester School Committee.
In their 2014 policy statement, the American Public Health Association called on communities to
…implement effective sexuality education programs that are developmentally and culturally appropriate; foster equality and respect; support the elimination of health disparities, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence; and are based on sound science and proven principles of instruction.
Many, many communities in Massachusetts have long since done so. Worcester is an outlier in not having a comprehensive, evidence-based, inclusive, scientifically sound health curriculum including sex education for our students, and regrettably, we as a community are seeing the results of that lack. As the 2017 (revised) statement of National Association of School Nurses observed:
While teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States continue to decline, rates remain higher than in other industrialized countries; and racial, ethnic and geographic disparities persist (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2016a). In addition, the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are at an unprecedented high in the United States, and more than half of newly acquired infections occur among adolescents and young adults (CDC, 2016b).
The Department of Public Health has called it a public health emergency. We are doing harm to our young people by continuing to delay, deny, and obfuscate around this issue.