By Mike Anthony
Pictured above: A Lindbergh High School student speaks to the new Lindbergh Board of Education, including members Christy Watz and Matt Alonzo, right, at their first meeting in April about the student’s experience in ThriVE Best Choice in middle school. Photo by Gloria Lloyd.
Final approval of a new health curriculum is scheduled to be considered next week by the Lindbergh Board of Education.
As proposed, the health curriculum would no longer utilize the services of ThriVe St. Louis’ Best Choice Program for middle school sex education.
The Board of Education will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12, in the boardroom at Lindbergh Early Childhood Education, 4900 S. Lindbergh Blvd.
In October, a representative of the Lind-bergh Parents for Comprehensive Sexual Education, Caleb Friz, presented a petition signed by 540 district residents urging the school board to remove the Best Choice Program from the district.
The petition also called for district officials to replace the Best Choice Program with “a comprehensive sex education curriculum” that should be: Science and evidence-based and medically accurate; created by medical professionals, certified educators and presented by Lindbergh educators; include factual information and efficacy about abstinence and contraceptives; explain the importance of consent and the responsibility of each individual in a sexual relationship; inclusive to LGBTQIA — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual/agender/aromantic — students; and strive to build confidence and awareness in students to avoid unwanted intimacy.
But district officials already had been reviewing the district’s health curriculum, including the sex education program.
The curriculum review was not done in response to concerns voiced by the Lind-bergh Parents for Comprehensive Sexual Education, but was part of the regular cycle of curriculum review, according to Superintendent Jim Simpson.
The proposed new health curriculum was unveiled at the school board’s November meeting for a first reading, with final ap-proval to be considered next week.
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, Simpson told the Call.
“We’re moving, as many districts have, we’re moving to Lindbergh teachers only teaching the curriculum,” he said. “We have certified health teachers — highly certified, trained Lindbergh health teachers. They were always in the room when sex ed was being taught. So they’ve been there the whole time … We’re just moving 100 percent in to Lindbergh teachers presenting our new sex ed curriculum beginning in late February.”
The sex ed program is comprised of four one-hour classes for middle school students.
Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Tara Sparks told the Call that a 10-member parent committee was involved in making the proposed changes to the sex ed curriculum. Of the 10, five have medical backgrounds.
“… The standards we’re working from are essentially the same. There is a seventh-grade standard that we are more intentional about in terms of our instruction. It starts in seventh grade, which includes that we will teach contraception, including the health benefits and the failure rates of various forms of contraception. I don’t think that has been overt in our previous curriculum.”
Under state law, public school districts that offer sexual education classes are re-quired 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 …”
That will not change, Sparks said, adding, “It’s just pulling in this other portion and ensuring that we are, like I said, more intentional about making sure kids have those tools and that background knowledge.”
Another change, she said, “Just in general, we’ve pulled out morals and values as part of the sexual education conversation. This is strictly fact based, neutral use of terminology, so it’s very, for lack of a better word, neutral in terms of how we teach sexual education to our students. One of the parents on the committee actually used the phrase, ‘It’s health as a science as our direction.’”
Friz first voiced his concerns to the school board last December that ThriVe is a Christian organization.
Since then, he and other representatives of Lindbergh Parents for Comprehensive Sexual Education have addressed the board on nearly a monthly basis voicing their concerns about Best Choice and urging the board to remove the program.
But Friz told the board last month that he was pleased with the proposed sex ed curriculum.
“… I have spoken to a couple parents from the sex ed curriculum committee about the content of the new draft curriculum, health curriculum, and I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you to the Lindbergh board and the administration for taking our concerns seriously, for listening to us and for producing a brand new comprehensive sex education curriculum for our students that is fully compliant with Missouri state law. There were times when this process was frustrating, but the work that the new board, Dr. Sparks and Lindbergh teachers put into it really shows. The new curriculum is light years away from what we had before. Thank you for keeping faith with the Lindbergh community.
“When I first spoke at the board last December, as I was leaving the building after the meeting, a young Lindbergh student came up to me to thank me for speaking about sex ed,” Friz continued. “She said that she and her friends had banded together as a support group and were literally Googling answers for each other about sex and even basic anatomy because their parents and teachers had not provided the information that they needed. She told me that it meant a lot to her that an adult was speaking out on this issue. I do not know if I would have come back again if it were not for that courageous young student taking the time to share her experiences with me. It made me realize that there really is a felt need out there among our students for more information and support regarding sexual health.
“The last thing I have to say is this: If even one student does not have an unwanted pregnancy because of this curriculum, it was all worth it. If even one student avoids an STD because of this curriculum, it was all worth it. If even one student can look themselves in the mirror and truly accept themselves for who they are and not feel ashamed of their sexuality, then it was all worth it. Thank you for improving the lives of our students and our community.”