School Board Updates Sex-ed Curriculum, LGBTQ Topic on Hold

Washoe County School Board Trustees, 2019. Image: Ty O'Neil.
Washoe County School Board Trustees, 2019. Left to right, standing: Dr. Angie Taylor, Andrew Caudill, Jacqueline Calvert, Scott Kelley and Ellen Minetto. Seated: Katy Simon Holland and Malena Raymond. Image: Ty O’Neil.

An updated sex education program that includes responsibility with social media and cellular phone use was approved this week by Washoe County School District trustees after a public hearing that lasted about 7 hours.

However, a component regarding gender identity and sexual orientation was put on hold pending further review.

The curriculum for SHARE, an acronym for Sexuality, Health, and Responsibility Education, was last updated in 2003 before it was commonplace for teens to carry smartphones or similar electronic devices.

SHARE is offered to students in fourth grade through high school and parents must opt their children into the program. It addresses human development, relationships, consent, abstinence, contraceptives and disease prevention, among other topics.

Additions approved Tuesday include sexting laws and ways the media can misrepresent sex and romantic relationships. Sexting refers to digitally sending explicit messages and photos.

Former Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner urged the board to adopt the updated curriculum. She noted the pushback from some today is similar to the reaction on AIDS education she heard as a state legislator decades ago.

“This was in the 1980s and people were very fearful, scared, and unsure what it meant,” Wagner said. “I added an amendment to that bill, which mandated sex education be taught in the schools, along with AIDS. The big question was not whether it should be taught, it was whether it be mandated or permissive. I won out on that score after 13 different amendments.”

Another topic updated in the curriculum involves sexually transmitted diseases. Representatives from the medical community urged the board to vote yes. Some even said they’ve seen patients who are scared to speak with their parents about diseases or who are unaware such conditions exist. Some students and former students also voiced support for disease education prevention.

RELATED:
County Approves Wildcreek Land Transfer

“Minors and young adults are being more exploratory and they have access to a lot with the internet,” said Jasmine Merrill, 21. “A lot of parents lack—not only in educating them because it’s very uncomfortable and nobody likes it—but also they’re not open to it and that makes them not want to teach them.”

Nevada ranked first nationwide in 2017 in cases of syphilis, 14th in gonorrhea and 17th in chlamydia, according to Centers for Disease Control information provided to the board.

More than 80 percent of students currently take part in SHARE, according to district officials. However, much of the controversy at Tuesday’s meeting surrounded the high school curriculum.

Denis Dolan said if children are learning about something at school, it could be seen as acceptable. Even if a child’s parents keep them out of the lessons, he said they will hear about it from classmates.

“Think back to your time as teenagers,” Dolan told trustees. “How would you feel if your parents kept you out of a discussion about sex? Wouldn’t you at least partly feel stigmatized, babied, or overprotected? If your child did not attend these classes, do you expect they would not be privy to discussions of the topics?”

Some people said they support certain aspects of the SHARE curriculum and that parents should be able to opt in to specific lessons and opt out of others.

Kindra Fox, district director of curriculum and instruction, said parents must opt their child into or out of the whole program. It would be logistically difficult in a class of several dozen students to remove varying numbers of pupils each day from classrooms. Attempting this could result in students inadvertently getting a lesson they weren’t supposed to get or not getting lessons their parents approved of, she said.

RELATED:
School District’s Use of Student Drug Informant Called Risky, Troubling

District legal counsel Neil Rombardo said it’s unlikely anybody who sues the school district over the SHARE curriculum would prevail.

“A district cannot be sued for a curriculum it adopts,” Rombardo said. “NRS (Nevada Revised Statutes) 389 specifically gives the board authority to adopt this and NRS 42 provides you with immunity for any liability that may result.”

LGBTQ Topic on Hold

A proposed addition to the curriculum concerning sexual orientation and gender identity was sent back to the board’s SHARE advisory committee for further review and revision. The committee is made up of nine members: five parents, one teacher, one counselor, one nurse and one religious official. The committee previously voted 4-4 (one absent) to recommend the board approve that particular section.

Two online surveys concerning SHARE received scant response, garnering about 150 and 300 respondents of about 32,000 eligible to participate. One person told the board there was nothing that prevented people from taking surveys multiple times. The part on sexual orientation and gender identity received the most negative responses.

Reno Christian Fellowship Rev. Brent Brooks, the religious official on the SHARE committee, acknowledged the curriculum needed updating. But he said the sexual orientation and gender identity portion was “presented entirely from the LGBTQ perspective” and isn’t inclusive or value-neutral.

“What’s happened is that those who hold a traditional value of sexuality don’t have a seat at the table anymore. We’re not there. We’ve been removed,” Brooks said. “Inclusive was interpreted to be dealing with one group…The LGBTQ community is a protected group under many court rulings. Religious people are also a protected group under many court rulings. One protected group was protected, another group was excluded.”

RELATED:
Kindergarten Registration Open for Fall 2019

Human rights advocate Yevonne Allen said issues surrounding those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning need to be addressed in schools by dispelling myths and teaching facts. Somebody’s personal beliefs aren’t more important that another’s rights, she said.

“One small group of people doesn’t have the power to parent all students,” Allen said.

District officials also tried to clear up misinformation going around the community.

One rumor concerns anal sex in the “making informed decisions” lesson, SHARE coordinator Rochelle Proctor said.

“There’s not a lesson on anal sex. It (the mention) strictly comes from a lesson on what is abstinence and it’s in the current curriculum we’re teaching right now,” Proctor said. “The teacher goes through and shows a slide (containing the typewritten-words ‘anal sex’) and asks, ‘Would this be abstinence?’ Another slide is holding hands (social kissing, hugging, etc.)… It’s the only reference.”

A copy of the lesson mentioned above is here:
https://go.boarddocs.com/nv/washoe/Board.nsf/files/BCFMBU5A545C/$file/Attachment%20B%20-%20Lesson%20Topic%20Making%20Informed%20Decisions.pdf

The board voted 5-2 to adopt the curriculum with the exception of the sexual orientation/gender identity portion and to strike a reference to the website ScarlettTeen. Material will also be printed in Spanish. Dissenters were Trustees Andrew Caudill and Ellen Minetto.

Caudill said he supported three of the programs’ six parts.

“If we could go lesson-by-lesson, I could,” he said. “But if it were ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the whole thing, it would be a ‘no.’”

On The Web

For more information on the SHARE curriculum and lesson plans, visit
https://go.boarddocs.com/nv/washoe/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=B93TU86B2BE9

Carla O'Day
About Carla O'Day 450 Articles
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.

Be the first to comment

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.


ThisisReno does not accept anonymous comments. Real first and last names only, please. Read our commenting policy at the link below for more information.

*