The new sexuality education curriculum adopted by the McMinnville School district came under fire this month after a local conservative activist opposed the “frank sexual nature” of the HIV lessons.[i]
Last fall, in compliance with a 2007 Oregon law mandating that K–12 schools teach students about human sexuality and HIV prevention, the McMinnville School District incorporated material from a program called The Great Body Shop into its elementary curriculum.[ii] The Great Body Shop, which is on the Oregon Department of Education’s list of recommended programs, is designed to provide children with age-appropriate information about health, nutrition, sexuality, and disease prevention. After the HIV/AIDS lessons were presented to students, however, a parent who is the head of the local group, Conservative Friends of Yamhill County (CFYC), began objecting to the “sexually explicit” nature of the program and the procedure for notifying parents.[iii]
In criticizing the HIV content of The Great Body Shop, the father and leader of the CFYC said that the multiple references to the act of sex in discussing STD risk reduction is “really, really objectionable for 9- and 10-year olds.” He opposed phrases in the lessons such as “people who have sex with many partners are at risk of getting HIV,” and “of course, you are much too young to have sex.”[iv] The district’s director of assessment and federal programs responded by saying that the decision to include The Great Body Shop into the human development curriculum was based on the program’s solid research base and devotion to bringing parents and children together through knowledge about health.[v]
The CFYC leader also complained that the school district had failed to adequately comply with district and state law, which states that parents must be given fair advance warning and the opportunity to “opt out” their child from learning what they consider inappropriate material. He claims that “many parents with whom he’s talked haven’t seen letters about the lessons…and that letters he has seen mention HIV, but don’t note the use of terms like ‘sex’ or ‘multiple partners.’”[vi]
The district’s director of assessment and federal programs acknowledged that, while some initial letters sent from schools about the program had not included information about the HIV discussion, “all subsequent letters do.” He stated, “I think we’ve covered our bases with parents and given opportunities to opt out or ask questions.” In addition he mentioned that the process for approving the program was a “lengthy one” that involved parents, PTA leaders, and district officials.[vii] The district is planning to continue the program despite this objection from a conservative activist.