A state middle school health and sex education curriculum used in the Knappa School District is on hold again.
In a 3-2 vote, the school board opted Monday to suspend the use of the curriculum pending a review in the fall.
A curriculum committee, assembled by Superintendent Bill Fritz, had reviewed the curriculum earlier this month at the request of the newly-formed Knappa Parents Organization. The committee briefly suspended the program, only to reinstate it last week.
The school board’s reversal of the committee’s decision does not have an immediate impact on the teaching of the “My Future-My Choice” program.
The curriculum, used in Knappa for the past decade, is taught in the spring and will not be taught again until next spring. Fritz is planning a formal review of the curriculum in the fall. Under the school district’s policies, the sex education curriculum is supposed to be reviewed every two years. To his knowledge, this has never happened, Fritz told the school board.
Parents can choose to opt their children out of the program.
Craig Weaver, the school board chairman, and board members Michelle Finn and Cullen Bangs voted in favor of overturning the committee’s decision. Board members Will Isom and Ed Johnson said that while they did not fully agree with aspects of the state curriculum, they were opposed to suspending the program in part because of the upcoming review.
Oregon schools are required to teach a health and sex education program that meets certain state standards or risk losing critical funding. There are no substitute curriculums available that meet state standards, the Knappa curriculum committee noted in its decision last week. An alternative would be to create something in Knappa from the ground up, but there are concerns about the small school district’s capacity to take on that kind of a project, Fritz told the school board.
‘No place in a classroom’
People who spoke against the curriculum Monday said that what was being taught was inappropriate and out of line with their values.
Christopher Morey, the president of the Knappa Parents Organization, called for the suspension of the entire curriculum, pending the review in the fall. He wants members of the Knappa Parents Organization to be included on the review board and said the school district should create a new curriculum that is “in line with the community and its standards.”
On their Facebook page, the Knappa Parents Organization described the original discussion by the curriculum committee as a “Transgender Curriculum Hearing.”
Morey said sex education is rarely a popular topic.
“What is being included in modern sex ed, however, would have been considered indecent, even borderline criminal, only a generation ago,” he said.
Sex education is just one topic the organization plans to tackle including accountability among school district administrators and pandemic-related masking and social distancing, Morey told The Astorian later.
Casey Wray, a Knappa resident and member of the Knappa’s Parents Organization, was more specific about her concerns with the state curriculum. She referenced issues she had with two chapters where basic sex acts are defined.
“These subjects have no place in a classroom,” she told the school board. “This is a very uncomfortable experience for these kids.”
Barbara Oien, a former nurse with Columbia Memorial Hospital and a longtime resident of Knappa, pushed back against the group’s claims to represent a majority of Knappa parents.
She also spoke about her own experience treating students who came from the Knappa community to the hospital’s emergency department. Some were pregnant or in abusive situations.
“And they were afraid to tell their parents and in talking to these young people what we found out is they really lacked education,” Oien said.
One young woman was five months pregnant and didn’t know basic anatomical terms.
“I think the topic of sex education overall is very difficult for parents to do,” she added. “It’s difficult for the school district to do. It’s difficult for husbands and wives to talk to each other about it and I think the more education the kids have, the better.”
As she spoke, Oien was interrupted by shouts from the audience and was not able to finish her statement. The school board did not intervene and her time ran out. Other speakers had not been interrupted.
Clatsop County Commissioner Courtney Bangs, a Knappa resident, attended the meeting. She told The Astorian she has known Oien for years. In a post on her Facebook page published Tuesday morning, Bangs pushed back at the people who had interrupted Oien.
“When you bully or heckle you lose your voice,” she wrote. “It’s hard to respect your purpose if it’s clouded with the disrespect of others. You can enact change through process and decorum. When decorum is lost, ears will close to your voice.”
‘Not a road we want to go down’
Isom, who, along with serving on the school board is the executive director of the Port of Astoria, expressed his concerns about the Knappa Parents Organization. In a statement he read Monday, he noted that he is a very conservative person with his own opinions and concerns about the state sex education curriculum.
However, he said, there are many ways for people to bring issues to the school district’s attention: calling administrators, attending school board meetings or even contacting board members directly.
With the exception of one person who spoke to the school board more than a month ago, Isom said he had not previously heard from anyone in the group about issues with curriculum. The meeting Monday was his first time seeing many of the people at a school board meeting.
He also referred to threatening comments made at the curriculum committee’s first meeting and in comments online. Isom recalled one person had said, “This is just the tail of the snake, we can go all the way up to the head of the snake and cut that off.”
Online, another person warned that “you’re not going to like the outcome if this actually continues.”
The Knappa Parents Organization did not publicly denounce, condemn or otherwise separate themselves from these comments, Isom said, adding, “This is scary stuff and not a road we want to go down.”
Still, he acknowledged that he agreed with many of the statements made by the organization, particularly that it is possible to teach children to be tolerant of ideas without teaching them those ideas, and that everyone is deserving of respect.
But, he concluded, parents in Knappa do not need the Knappa Parents Organization in order for their voices to be heard.