Saline Residents Comment on Proposed Sex Education Plan for Special Education Students
The Saline Area Schools district is in the process of implementing sex education curriculum for its special education students.
Tuesday, the Saline Sex Education Advisory Board held the first of two public hearings on curriculum it may recommend to the Saline Board of Education. The next hearing will be at 9 a.m., Aug. 20.
After that hearing, the Sex Education Advisory Board will meet and review feedback and deem whether or not it's appropriate to recommend the plan to the Board of Education.
The district is recommending a curriculum developed by California-based "Positive Prevention Plus."
At the moment, the district does not have a curriculum specifically designed for special education students
Saline Middle School Assistant Principal Lindsay Guenther, who taught special education for more than a decade before she joined the administrative ranks last month, previewed the curriculum for the 30-35 people who attended the first public hearing Thursday at Liberty School. (VIDEO HERE)
"We didn't have a curriculum specifically designed to meet the needs of students who couldn't access the general sex education curriculum. We had parents request this and teachers request this," Guenther said.
The curriculum would be used for students starting in seventh grade through the Young Adult Program (up to 26 years old). Currently, that's about 120 students.
Guenther said this population needs specific curriculum for many reasons.
"We are talking about a very vulnerable population. Cognitive delays can make self-advocacy difficult for this population. A lot of our students don't know how to express themselves especially if they are going through trauma," Guenther said. "We want to make sure that we are teaching our students to advocate for themselves."
Guenther said special education students are 50 to 99 percent more likely to be the victim of sexual abuse.
This specific curriculum is more reliant on visuals to help teachers with the lessons. The curriculum's lessons are composed of modules. It's the SEAB's plan to allow parents to notify parents and guardians of the lessons and modules and give them the ability to remove their students.
One of the modules that won't be taught is the module on abortion, because the Michigan Department of Education does not allow sex education to mention the subject, Guenther said. Lessons include puberty, contraception and condom use, resistance skills, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual contact, appropriate behaviors and hygiene and self-care. There's also a module on human trafficking.
Guenther noted the modules do contain new language. Instead of using terms like male and female, the curriculum instead uses "body with a penis" or "body with a vagina."
One of the modules also includes information about gender identity and gender expression. There is another module that discusses masturbation. Guenther noted that some special education students start masturbation at an earlier age and don't understand what their body is doing.
"It's very important that we discuss and have curriculum that approaches the subject in a meaningful and accurate manner," Guenther said.
There are modules that discuss sexual contact, including oral and anal sex, but the curriculum emphasizes sexual abstinence, Guenther said. "It's telling the teacher to emphasize that not having sexual contact with another person is the only 100 percent way to avoid infections or getting pregnant."
"Sexual abstinence is emphasized more in this curriculum than the other curriculums that we have reviewed," Guenther said.
Even if the curriculum is adopted by the board, it won't be implemented in Saline Area Schools until 2022-23. Guenther said it will take time to train teachers.
"We're not just going to hand these binders to teachers and say 'Good luck. Have at it,'" Guenther said. "We want to give our educators lots of time to get trained and certified in sexual education for special populations in addition to making sure that we're meeting the needs of the unique students that we are going to provide this curriculum to."
The SEAB and school district will also need to decide how to implement the pieces that involve parental interaction. For example, since parents will have the ability to opt their children out of modules and lessons, the district will need to decide how they communicate with parents.
Several parents made comments after the presentation.
Ben Goodman is a parent of two children with disabilities in the district. He praised the curriculum for helping give students the tools they need to protect themselves.
"Programs like this are very important for kids with disabilities. I'm very concerned for both of my children's future, in terms of human trafficking, sexual assault, and other issues, like pregnancy and STDs," Goodman said.
He said he previously used curriculum like this in special education and the school district children saved from trafficking and sexual assault.
"They were comfortable with their body and they were comfortable to come to somebody else and say, 'Hey, I need help," Goodman said.
He said he worried his kids wouldn't understand a lot of sex education lessons the district currently uses.
Justin Ku, father of a first-grader and eighth-grader, was not supportive of the proposed curriculum. Ku asked the board if it was a "precursor to a radical change that you want to see throughout the entire Salineschool system?"
"It seems to me that if you're going to change it (with special education students), you will eventually change it everywhere else," Ku said.
He took issue with the "Comprehensive Sexuality" title.
"Why is sexuality being taught to anyone who's under 18?" he asked. "If you'd like to educate children and how men and women's reproductive organs work I would support that, as long as it stops there. But this curriculum normalizes sex for children, and desensitizes them to things of a sexual nature."
Ku said the district should leave it to parents to teach children who to make "good, moral judgments."
"This curriculum is a catalyst for the degeneration of our children. And I won't be quiet about it, any of it," Ku said. "I refuse to be complacent or compliant about the agenda of the left and liberal teacher unions and the school board."
Raelyn Davis, the mother of 10 children, said she supported about 80 percent of the curriculum. Her chief criticism was that the district did not do enough to publicize the public hearings.
"We did not get an email. We did not get any public media. And, personally, that is not transparent and I think before the next meeting, I'm strongly encouraging you guys to make this public," Davis said. "How can you get the public comment? If they don't know the meetings happening."
She said she wasn't sure that the notifications parents would receive in the future about lessons and modules might not clearly state what things were being taught, and might not allow parents to make good decisions about opting out. She said the district currently has a policy of being respectful to parents who believe gender is fluid and those with more traditional views.
"This curriculum is not respectful of traditional views," she said.
For parents with more traditional views, Davis said, this curriculum "is so inclusive that it's exclusive."
Adam Davis, her husband, said he was glad to see that each module required parental consent. He said one of his concerns is that parents may choose to opt their children out of the entire sex ed curriculum.
"Then you're going to have students living in a world that they're going to have difficulty understanding," Davis said.
He too criticized the transparency of the SEAB and noted that parents have had less than 13 hours to actually read the curriculum available in the district's office.
He noted that the reason for sex education in Michigan was to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. He noted that the SEAB does not mention those goals in its mission statement. But meanwhile, Davis said, Saline is the only district in the county that teaches abstinence-only sex ed, and that Saline has the lowest pregnancy and STD rates of the county school districts.
"Every other school district has a higher rate and they have comprehensive sexuality education," Davis said.
Suzanne Atzinger, a parent of two, previously served on the reproductive health advisory committee. She also had a child with special needs in the school district. She said this curriculum was something "near and dear to her heart" and something she "championed."
She said her chief concern is parental rights on the opt-in/opt-out options once a child turns 18.
"Nothing is more important to me than (parental rights). Parents, as all of you know, we are the first and most important teachers of our children, and have that right to make these decisions," Atzinger said.