Update to Sex Ed Curriculum in MO School District Delayed

On October 21, 2015, after a month of debate and discussion, the Parkway School Board in Missouri decided to postpone a vote on a new sexuality education curriculum for the district.

The district’s curriculum first came under review by an advisory committee last year, for the first update since 2008. The new curriculum frameworks was released in early September, 2015. Among laudable updates to the curriculum, was the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity issues. For example, seventh-graders would learn the importance of respect for various gender identities and expressions, while eighth-graders would learn to define and distinguish between gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation. While gender identity and transgender issues have already been discussed in Parkway District classrooms in recent years, the new guidelines would establish their inclusion as a formal part of the curriculum. The updated guidelines also included topics such as internet predators and sexting.

Under the proposed curriculum frameworks, discussions of gender identity would begin at the elementary school level over the course of at minimum four health education classes. That number would increase in middle and high school, with between six and eight classes focusing on gender issues and healthy relationships, which would include topics like sexual orientation and age of consent.

At a school board meeting on September 9, 2015, shortly after the proposed curriculum frameworks was released, parents and students expressed their concerns about the changes. Many of those who spoke worried that it was not the school’s place to teach subject like gender identity, or that Parkway is pushing a particular ideology on students. However, it is students themselves who have been calling for more inclusive and relevant sexual health curriculum. Over 350 signatures have been collected on a student-led petition supporting the revisions. “My health is as important as anyone’s and I’m tired of not being included in the curriculum,” says Ashel McNamee, an LGBTQ senior at Parkway West.

Lisa Merideth, Assistant Superintendent of teaching, learning and accountability at Parkway said; “there are unique health challenges that our youth face today, that society has introduced to us, not the schools,” and that the school is merely trying to provide a place for safe, respectful conversation around the issue. "Our goal, our intent is to reduce the discrimination, marginalization of a population of our students," said Parkway School District's Health Curriculum Coordinator, Ron Ramspott.

On October 21st the Parkway School Board decided to delay a vote on the changes. According to district spokeswoman, Cathy Kelly, the delay is intended to give the district time to draft sample lesson plans for review and to provide more clarity as to how the proposed changes will be implemented in the classroom. It will also allow for the development of trainings for educators who will teach the new material, as well as time for the district to streamline online information for families on opting out of the classes. The final vote is anticipated to take place in March 2016. If approved, the plans will go into effect next fall, in time for the start of the 2016–2017 school year.

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