Health curriculum, including sex ed, OK’d for Lindbergh

By Mike Anthony
Executive Editor

The Lindbergh Board of Education voted unanimously last week to give final approval to a new health curriculum that will no longer utilize the services of ThriVe St. Louis’ Best Choice Program for middle school sex education.
Approval of the new health curriculum ends a yearlong debate over middle school sex education initiated last December by district resident Caleb Friz.
In October, Friz, a founder of the Lindbergh Parents for Comprehensive Sexual Education, presented a petition signed by 540 district residents urging the school board to remove the Best Choice Program from the district.
District officials already had been reviewing the district’s health curriculum, including the sex education program, as part of the regular cycle of curriculum review.
The new health curriculum was approved Dec. 12 by the board as part of its consent agenda.
The proposed new health curriculum was unveiled at the school board’s November meeting for a first reading, and Friz told board members that he was pleased with the proposed sex ed curriculum.
ThriVe Best Choice had presented a school-based abstinence curriculum that did not include any religious content for students in grades six through eight for the past nine years at no cost to the district, but will not be involved in the new sex ed curriculum.
The sex ed program is comprised of four one-hour classes for middle school students and now will be taught by Lindbergh health and fitness teachers.
Under state law, public school districts that offer sexual education classes are required to ensure that any course materials and instruction relating to human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases will be medically and factually accurate. In addition, they are required to “present abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred choice of behavior in relation to all sexual activity for unmarried pupils because it is the only method that is 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy …”
A 10-member parent committee was involved in making the proposed changes to the sex ed curriculum, according to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Tara Sparks. Of the 10, five have medical backgrounds.
The new health curriculum was presented to the board last week by Dr. George Rezabek, a parent and pediatrician who served on the parent committee, and Sperreng Middle School health and fitness teachers Kit Norton and Kim Onder.
Rezabek said the curriculum review process was inclusive of all the parents on the committee.
“What was nice about this was that every parent was allowed to express their viewpoint. Everyone was allowed the amount of talking time that they needed and everyone’s viewpoints were addressed and at least recognized until we could all reach an agreement,” he told the board.
Norton said, “So our curricular focus is to provide fact-based information — first and foremost — the use of inclusive terminology … and also another focus would be boundaries with relationships.”
Based on feedback generated at the first two parent committee meetings, teachers and the curriculum leadership team developed seven themes regarding the feedback, including consent and boundaries.
“The feedback that we got guided us to make consent and boundaries an ongoing part of the conversation, and you’ll see that there’s an incremental or increase from the sixth grade to seventh grade to eighth grade …,” Norton said. “Also, another theme that we took from that discussion was opt out. Basically what that really means when a student or if a parent messages us and whatever topic in health it is, not just growth and development, if they feel they’re uncomfortable by that conversation or feel it’s just not for them, then they have an opportunity to opt out of that actual lesson or that unit …”
Another theme involves talking points for families in which the district provides communications and resources for parents at home “should they desire to follow up with that, which is our hope …,” he said.
The feedback from the parent committee also led to the theme of all-inclusive terminology, Norton said, “Ensuring that all students see themselves in this curriculum, in this material.”
One item that was removed, he said, was expressing sexuality.
“From our feedback, we determined that it’s just not about expressing sexuality, but more so it’s about providing fact-based information,” Norton said. “And then finally, the other feedback thing that we got from our group was abstinence and contraception. Keeping our focus on being fact-based, the feedback guided us to include contraception methods and that abstinence is the only 100-percent method to prevent and avoid STIs, STDs and pregnancy.”
Onder reviewed some of the changes in the curriculum.
“At all grade levels, we revised the statement that the choices they make could have a lasting impact on their health and wellness regardless of sexual orientation,” she said. “And again, this was to be all-inclusive so that children know that they are human beings and all that applies to growth and development does apply to them.”
For “learning targets,” which Onder described as “those measurable outcomes that we as teachers want to make sure that the kids are indeed getting to that standard or learning,” the following changes were made:
Sixth grade — Added that students will identify and discuss how personal boundaries can reduce health risk.
Seventh grade — Added that students will identify and analyze examples of consensual behaviors, and removed that students will make healthy decisions that align with their personal values.
Eighth grade — Revised that students will identify diseases, such as cancer, and prevention methods, self-exams for example, that pertain to reproductive health.
Added that students will state the legal age of consent and explain how it applies to a person their age.
Added that students will explain examples of consensual behaviors and discuss consequences of non-consensual behaviors.
Removed that students will make healthy decisions that align with their personal values.
Sparks told the board that she was impressed with Norton, Onder and Truman Middle School health and fitness teachers Jeff Baumgartner and Johnna Wieter “because they’ve really designed a thoughtful and purposeful curriculum.”